Prisons in England are being virtually connected to local hospitals by secure encrypted video, in a move to reduce the need for prisoners to travel to receive specialist care.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have signed a new national agreement that is connecting prisons in England with specialists in their local hospital through a video collaboration platform provided by healthtech company Visionable.

Instead of coordinating costly physical visits to hospital, prisons can now use Visionable’s technology to allow prisoners to speak securely with consultants remotely whenever possible and appropriate.

A secure, encrypted client version of the Visionable system was initially rolled out to a prison in March allowing hospital clinicians to provide specialist video consultations to prisoners under the supervision of the prison’s medical team.

The initiative is now being scaled nationally and is in the process of being deployed to 114 prisons and young offender institutions, 15 secure children’s homes, and five immigration removal centres. Visionable stated that in the longer term it could potentially be also used to connect patients virtually to other NHS services, including primary care and mental health.

Security has been a paramount consideration during the introduction of the system into prisons. Secure laptops can only be activated with a remote key held by the prison’s healthcare team, who take the laptop to the prisoner’s location.

The member of staff then uses the secure Visionable platform to join a virtual room, in which they connect to a specific consultant at the hospital at an arranged time. The laptop is then placed in front of the prisoner who can see and talk to the consultant. Consultants are also able to use the system to show important information and diagnostic images such as x-rays and CT scans.

Once the consultation has finished, the consultant can then talk to hospital staff and advise them of necessary next steps, such as issuing a prescription.

The laptop and software have been configured so that it cannot be used for any other communication purpose and that in the event of a laptop being stolen, it would be rendered inoperable.

Visionable chief executive Alan Lowe said: “Virtual ways of working in healthcare have quickly become more urgent since Covid-19. But they are also a key means for transforming how people interact with their healthcare professionals in the longer term. This particular project, envisioned before the coronavirus pandemic, is an important expansion of how the NHS has been using remote video technology to transform pathways, and will result in significant efficiency and security gains for organisations involved. But it also demonstrates how clinicians can be brought to the individual, regardless of their location. If used in the right way, remote technologies provide significant opportunities to bring services to individuals in a more convenient way and in ways that can improve access and equity in healthcare.”

Date published: October 19, 2020

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