Following productive discussions with the Government, NHS and the UK’s major telecoms companies have today agreed a set of new commitments to support the NHS.
The NHS needs broadband and mobile services more than ever with many healthcare services (e.g. hospital outpatient appointments) now being provided remotely. Telecoms companies and their workers are making a major contribution to keeping the nation connected during the COVID-19 emergency, ensuring that people can stay and work from home. They have now stepped up further during this national emergency to support the NHS, its staff and patients.
The UK’s major internet and mobile companies, namely BT/EE, Openreach, Sky, talktalk, Virgin Media, O2, Three, Vodafone, Cityfibre, Gigaclear, Tesco Mobile, giffgaff, Hyperoptic and KCOM, have agreed to work with NHS England and NHS Improvement, and NHSX to:
- Offer identified NHS frontline staff, who are existing customers, the mobile data access, voice calls and text they need, at no extra cost, on their personal mobiles used for work purposes, to enable the staff to work remotely without fear of extra charges and limitations;
- Ensure NHS clinicians working from home have, wherever possible, prioritised broadband upgrades to superfast or other improvements they might need, in order to perform tasks, such as consultations carried out via video conferencing and to download/upload large medical files. Clinicians with slow or standard broadband speeds, for example, would be eligible to be upgraded to superfast speeds where their current connections are insufficient. Some providers will upgrade customers who are NHS workers on to faster speeds without any extra charge;
- Improve connectivity in care homes that have slow, or no, broadband connections, wherever possible; and
- While patients having remote consultations will get the best experience on a fixed broadband connection, there are a small proportion of mobile-only households. Operators have already agreed generous data allowances for their vulnerable mobile customers, so that patients that can only use a mobile connection for their video consultations will have sufficient data available.
These commitments are in addition to the support the telecoms companies are providing to the NHS and its patients, including ensuring that the new emergency hospitals being built across the country have the connectivity they need, as well as providing zero-rated access to nhs.uk on mobile connections.
NHS staff will be provided with further information by the NHS on how to identify to telecommunications providers that they are eligible for this support.
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Our NHS heroes need to be able to carry out their vital work without worrying about technology failing them – and people using NHS services online need to be able to rely on their connections.
“These welcome commitments will mean frontline NHS staff can use personal phones for work purposes without limits or extra charges, allow GPs to carry out consultations and transfer large files from home, and help vulnerable people who depend most on the NHS for care.
“I applaud the NHS for its continued fight to save lives, and mobile and broadband companies who have stepped up yet again to help in the national effort.”
Matthew Gould, NHSX Chief Executive said: “Covid-19 has made stark the importance of technology in helping people and those who care for them stay connected.
“Technology has the potential to be a tremendous force for good in helping the country and its citizens through the crisis, and we are grateful to industry colleagues for offering their support to the NHS.”
Mark Evans, CEO of O2 said: “I’m proud to see the industry work together to recognise and support the invaluable work of front line NHS staff at this critical time. Connectivity remains more important than ever and we are committed to helping ensure that all our customers can stay in contact with friends, family and colleagues”.
Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, added: “We have increased the capacity and reach of our network at the newly established Nightingale hospitals and at many doctors’ surgeries up and down the country to ensure we keep patients and NHS staff connected during these challenging times. We’re not stopping there. In addition to offering NHS workers free unlimited mobile data, we are exploring the installation of secure video conferencing systems at intensive care units, and have set up dedicated call centres for health organisations within days, when typically it would take months. We are here to support the NHS in any way we can and keep the UK connected.”