Case study – Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

22 March 2016

How a smartphone app is helping to get near real time A&E information into the hands of the people who need it


Using a smartphone app to share near real time information on bed state, or demand at the front door of the hospital, has meant senior management and the executive team are now always up to speed with what is currently happening and understand how each site is coping with the daily A&E pressures. It also means staff can be redeployed to meet demand while agency and temporary staff can be better targeted which inevitably leads to savings. System leaders do not to have to rely on month old data and can immediately see the trust’s real-time position.

We spoke to Finance Director Simon Marshall about the challenges facing the trust and how it is using a mobile app to communicate the trust’s real-time position in A&E to a wide range of staff.

Can you tell us what your information needs are?

The challenge for us, as with any hospital, is how to meet the information needs of staff and senior management to ensure the delivery of high quality, cost-effective care. We have our own information team which has developed various performance dashboards using off-the-shelf business intelligence software, but we wanted to move and move faster. There were inevitably limits with our internal resource which is why we were looking for some external support.

Why did you want to work with Beautiful Information?

We were looking for specific expertise from within the NHS. Our own tools allows user to drill down to the detail, but in some ways we were presenting too much information. We knew that Beautiful Information had developed an app called Operational Control Centre (OCC) which presents specific information about A&E. We hadn’t thought of separating out information in this way, or putting it into an app.

It was also encouraging to know that Beautiful Information is based in a multi-site NHS trust. With our proposed merger discussions with Royal Surrey County Hospital we felt we would benefit from this wider experience of presenting information on different sites in a single app.

How exactly has the OCC app help you?

Every hospital goes through daily cycles to ensure availability of beds and staff to meet demand. However, we didn’t have easily accessible real-time information on our bed state, or demand at the front door of the hospital. This was something that previously had been available every four hours or so. By using the OCC app we were able to give trust staff access this information every three minutes. Our existing business information tools allowed us to see flow between wards, but the mobile app has taken this a step further. It is the ease of access and immediacy which is making a difference.

It means that senior management and the executive team can be up to speed with what is happening and understand how each site is coping. It also helps us pick up wider trends which improves our discussions with commissioners about the wider system.

How have you incorporate the app into trust management?

The app is linked to our internal escalation plans which means that when we see a particular site change colour we know what the next steps are. We have just been through our most difficult period ever and we have been able to show the impact of this on the trust and means a wider group of people now appreciate the challenges we face. This is very important for us.

What have you learned along the way?

One of the biggest lessons we have learned is that less is more. In the past we may have overwhelmed users with our dashboards. The app is very easy to understand and I haven’t come across anyone who doesn’t get it straight away.

We have also found that when trust staff can see data is being used in this way and it is available to everyone, they are more focussed on accuracy and data quality. As the data quality gets better we will have more accurate information which improves our ability to make good decisions.

What are the wider benefits of using the OCC app?

There are inevitably going to be savings. So for example, when it comes to A&E we can move staff around to meet demand and target agency and temporary staff better as a result of having immediate information at our fingertips.

It is also helpful for system leaders not to have to rely on historical performance data and be able see data in real time. If I was a commissioner running a local health economy I would want to know how the whole system is coping, day and night, seven days a week.

About Ashford and St. Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The trust serves a population of over 400,000 people living in the boroughs of Runnymede, Spelthorne, Woking and parts of Elmbridge, Hounslow, Surrey Heath and beyond. It provides a range of services from its two hospital sites in Surrey – Ashford Hospital and St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey. The majority of planned care (day case and orthopaedic surgery is provided at Ashford hospital, with more complex medical and surgical care and emergency services at St Peter’s Hospital.