Pilot trial at East of England Ambulance Service showing positive early results

By Bethan Evans, Chief Operating Officer at Excelerate Technology

It has been a busy few weeks for the exciting European Space Agency-funded Hybrid Connex research and development programme, with the promising early results of our pilot trial at the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) being presented at the Emergency Services Show in September and the Ambulance Leadership Forum in October 2023.

EEAST is the first ambulance service to pilot the latest technology that goes well beyond 4G limitations – providing robust connectivity for ambulance crews and vehicles even in areas where traditional cellular connectivity is either extremely challenged or impossible.

Delegates at both events heard first-hand from EEAST’s Stephen Bromhall, Chief Digital Information Officer and Philip Elvidge, Electronic Patient Care Records Lead (Paramedic) how the four vehicles that have been fitted for the trial since August 2023 are already receiving positive reviews from staff, while supporting the safe non-conveyance of patients to hospitals.

The Hybrid Connex technology bonds clever software, cutting-edge hardware and cellular and satellite services into one package that effectively creates unbreakable, permanent connectivity, combining seamless 4G, 5G and satellite connections that ensure ambulance crews get a fast, resilient connectivity solution and are never offline. The hardware is unobtrusive and the technical fit-out can be done in a day, meaning the vehicle doesn’t need to be off-line for long.

With the rise of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite technology and 4G/5G coverage, access to hybrid connectivity is becoming ever more crucial for effective remote communications. Satellite services are rapidly becoming less expensive and more widely available. Soon there will be no place on the planet where broadband service cannot be accessed, with some of it being provided by satellite, some by 5G, and other means. While many emergency services already use satellite technology as a backup, there can be no doubt that its inclusion in one bonded solution – where it is called upon when cellular connectivity is unavailable – will have significant benefits for resilience, especially in a large-scale, mass casualty incident, where experience has proved that one of the first things to fail is often the cellular communications connection.

An always-on Wi-Fi bubble around the ambulance allows staff to connect to digital systems such as NHS Spine-connected services one hundred per cent of the time, giving them access to patient history and enabling them to identify alternative care pathways, make the right decisions for the patient and provide the opportunity for the best possible clinical outcomes.

Amidst the implementation of the Emergency Services Network (ESN), the introduction of a complementary technology that enhances clinical connectivity within the UK ambulance sector is undoubtedly something to be embraced and welcomed?

We certainly believe so, and with ESN being based on 4G technology, we believe we have something extra to offer the emergency services, who ought to be able to benefit from the very latest technology today.

Both patients and the dedicated staff who care for them deserve an enhanced standard of care, which is why we are so encouraged to see that the Hybrid Connex trial has already proven that ambulance services can provide better clinical technology to the front line and to patients, improving patient care, even over just a few early weeks of our trial. Importantly we are also starting to see how this technology supports reductions in unnecessary conveyance to hospitals.

The early stages of the pilot have already shown the benefit of a faster and more stable connection to digital systems even while the vehicle is on the move. In some cases that connection has been able to extend into patients’ homes, resulting in the ability for staff to make Wi-Fi calls in low and no cellular connectivity areas.

Philip Elvidge, Electronic Patient Care Records Lead (Paramedic) at East of England Ambulance Service is working on the trial and said:“When we lose connection, clinical apps stop being able to pull information from our CAD system, cease being able to pull information from our PDS trace to bring the patient’s NHS number into record and prevents us being able to upload information to our key partners. However, with Hybrid Connex we have been able to access the Summary Care Records and National Record Locator consistently, which gives staff access to patients’ End of Life and Mental Health Plans, giving access to key information any time of the day to help us make the right clinical decisions.

“As we move forward with the integration of digital technology to ambulance front line care, we have access to more information about our patients than ever before, but we need to be connected all of the time to take advantage of it. Paramedics need to know they can always have the same information available no matter where they attend to their patients. With Hybrid Connex in place, we are already seeing how a guaranteed connection improves our patient care, as we can download information about the patient and access their clinical records whenever needed. We are already starting to use new functionality like video calling to a stroke consultant in a specialist centre, for example.”

Funded by a €5.7m grant from the European Space Agency (ESA), emergency services connectivity specialist Excelerate Technology is leading a consortium of partners to deliver Hybrid Connex, including NHS AGEM, Livewire, Satellite Applications Catapult and Vodafone.

Monica France, Programme Manager for Digital Transformation, NHS AGEM, said: “Hybrid Connex is a dynamic project that NHS Arden and GEM are really pleased to be involved in. Arden and GEM’s role is to support the relationship between NHS and industry. This will ensure that the delivery of efficient and effective patient care is at the forefront of the research.”

As the lead partner in the Hybrid Connex consortium, Excelerate is delighted to be working with NHS Arden & Gem and East of England Ambulance Service and we are keen to hear from other ambulance services who would like to trial our cutting-edge technology.”

To get involved, or to find out more, visit the Hybrid Connex online engagement portal https://peaceful-keller.45-155-21-12.plesk.page or email bethane@excelerate.info.