HEALTH & SOCIAL CARE INFRASTRUCTURE & OPERATIONS

5G in Infrastructure & Operations

5G can play an important role in helping the health and social care sector run more smoothly and efficiently with less wasted time, lost assets and greater support for carers. Improved infrastructure and access to unprecedented levels of data can also facilitate more personalised care and support for individuals, and enhance interoperability between health and social care.  

Most hospitals pre-date the internet and their large and complex structures make it challenging to now connect them to wired networks. Pre-pandemic, a fifth of care workers reported that their care homes had no Wi-Fi. Connecting hospitals and residential facilities to wireless networks like 5G could be transformative for the sector, increasing efficiency and overall costs. For instance, the high bandwidth of 5G networks enables the tracking of buildings, people and the assets in them, decreasing time spent looking for items and wastage (the NHS spends £14m each year, for instance, replacing unreturned or lost crutches). 

Automation will play an important role in supporting carers. Remote monitoring of vital checks and the use of robots to conduct temperature checks or transport sterilised equipment can free up limited resources to focus on more patient-centred care. What’s more, as patient-centred care becomes ever more important, a hospital connected to 5G will allow individuals to digitally control their environments (from lighting levels to temperature) to improve levels of comfort. 

Training across the sector can also benefit from advanced connectivity. The high-quality connectivity 5G offers can enable ultra high-definition video streaming of surgeries, allowing more students to experience surgeries first-hand, uniquely seeing things from the perspective of the lead surgeon.  It will also be possible to deploy detailed Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality situation-based training, for example of disaster response scenarios, providing a richer, more realistic form of training than is currently possible.  These technologies can also transform in-work support for health and social care workers by providing training, guidance in real-time, and support mechanisms for newly trained community staff to consult a mentor or colleague.  A fifth-generation network is a vital tool in the future of healthcare operations. 

How Could 5G Support the Infrastructure & Operations of Health & Social Care?

Optimised Building & Asset Management

NHS Property Services has one of the largest property portfolios in the UK, with more than 3,000 properties and 7,000 tenants across England alone. This only represents about 10 perent of the total NHS estate and includes a broad array of properties from listed buildings through to state-of-the-art integrated health campuses. Managing such a varied estate is inevitably challenging. 

5G can support a far greater density of devices than other connectivity solutions, allowing for connected buildings with enhanced physical security, increased monitoring and predictive maintenance.  But it’s not just buildings that can be connected: there are a huge amount of assets, such as wheelchairs and crutches that are used across health and social care facilities. By deploying sensors on these items, it becomes far easier to track their location and reduce loss.  The NHS spends more than £14m each year on walking aids of which nearly 50 percent are lost or never returned and nurses spending around 6,000 hours a month searching for equipment. 5G networks can help to more effectively monitor this equipment, save money and improve efficiency. This is especially important as the NHS works to reduce waiting times in the context of the post-Covid backlog.

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Driving Operational Efficiencies

The Health and Social Care sector is facing unprecedented financial pressure and demands for its services. But 5G can increase the opportunities to use technology smartly, helping to reduce the pressure on stretched workers and drive operational efficiencies.  Fully embedding digital practices into the sector will take time and investment, meaning operational efficiencies may be a longer-term outcome. However, with automation, telemedicine and remote monitoring, 5G networks can unleash the potential for a new level of effectiveness. 

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Collaborative Working

In 2015, 54% of people aged over 65 had two or more chronic conditions but by 2035, this is predicted to rise to 67.8% with 17% of over 65s living with four or more conditions. Management often spans across multiple departments in both health and social care, which means coordination of treatment plans and collaborative working is more important than ever. The high-bandwidth of 5G means that large data files can be transferred easily and securely between departments.  Ultra high-definition video conferencing is also possible and datasets from remote monitoring can be accessed by multiple parties. This will result in improved efficiency, greater capacity to bring in remote specialists and more cohesive, effective care plans.

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Training Staff & Students

5G’s high-bandwidth and low-latency is set to revolutionise the training of health and social care workers. 5G networks will introduce real-time ultra high-definition video streams of live surgeries and procedures, in addition to immersive mixed reality experiences with VR headsets: staff and students will benefit from unparalleled opportunities to observe, explore and develop.

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Protecting Health & Social Care Workers

Caregivers face many hazards in their daily working lives. Yet 5G is here to help: its ability to power automation, contactless security measures and remote testing capabilities will help minimise the risk to health and social care workers, and those they care for, of Covid-19 and other hazardous scenarios or environments.

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Disaster Scenario Response

In the event of a disaster, information is critical to enable an appropriate resource and hospital preparation. With high bandwidth and low latency, 5G makes ultra high-definition video streaming and calling a reality, while private networks and the capability to create network slices guarantee reliable coverage, even when public networks are at capacity.

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Optimised Patient Experience

Patient-centred care is a key priority for the sector, ensuring people receive health and social care and support with dignity and respect while involving them in all decisions about their health and care. Greater collaboration and ease of sharing between teams and departments can contribute to this and improves the service user's experience, removing the need for people to outline their needs multiple times.  Particularly in the private healthcare sector, the hospital experience is of increasing importance. With 5G, patients can digitally control and tailor their environments, for instance lighting or temperature, to improve levels of comfort.  

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