back to article Paging technology providers: £3m is on the table to replace archaic NHS comms network

The digital arm of England's health service, NHSX, is tendering for a replacement to ageing pager technologies in an effort to modernise hospital communications systems. The £3m framework deal on offer is a step in fulfilling a dictum made by UK health secretary Matt Hancock in February 2019 that would require all NHS trusts …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It worked well because

    Crapita and Vodafone hadn't broken it.

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Specification Snowball

    We need something to replace a simple pager = simple just needs some old Nokias and sms.

    Then everybody involved will add their own requirement because otherwise how do they justify being involved.

    So as well as text messages it will have to be able to send 4d video and feature smello-vision

    Security is important so it will have to be designed from scratch to the highest levels of military grade magic and so use no COTS parts

    It will need to interoperate with 6 other "not yet totally designed" emergency services comms systems.

    It will have to be built by approved suppliers in several deprived areas by companies whose brother in law is a cabinet minister

    It will be delivered late, if at all, won't work and the handset will have a battery life of 10mins and will need a fork lift to lift.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Specification Snowball

      And in the meantime, the existing equipment can remain in use as it works just fine.

      20 years later: Are we still using those bloody pagers?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Specification Snowball

        And why we will still be using fax.

        Because the email replacement doesn't meet SecureIT2020 (tm) standard while supporting that non-standard DICOM from that single 1970s scanner and allow somebody in Shetland to view 4d ultrasound on a 2G connection

  3. Richard Jones 1
    Happy

    Back in Time Technology Rides Again

    Pagers, another shuffle down memory lane, I did not work for the NHS so my use was long, long ago. They had one advantage, not always being personal devices they used to be given to the on-call person of the moment. Batteries also lasted a long time as I remember, not just half a day.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Back in Time Technology Rides Again

      And the signal works everywhere, and the network doesn't collapse in an emergency, and they don't need a security update every 5mins.

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Back in Time Technology Rides Again

      That's exactly it. If all you need is a device which is simple to use and can say "person on duty, please attend / call / wake up now", the pager is ideal. I used to carry one and the single AAA battery would last at least a couple of weeks.

      If you need more than that, equip people with a basic mobile phone.

      Sometimes a particular application has a specific, already-working solution. Why change it?

      M.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Back in Time Technology Rides Again

        >Sometimes a particular application has a specific, already-working solution. Why change it?

        Because idiots like new shiny stuff.

      2. Adrian Midgley 1

        They dont work very well

        and each call is an interruption.

  4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Just Works

    Pagers may be out of fashion, but they one big advantage: They work. Mobile signal across hospitals can be terrible whereas the signal for pagers just gets through fine.

    My local hospital has spent a seven figure sum to get mobile signal across all their buildings.

    1. NeilPost Bronze badge

      Re: Just Works

      Wifi and iMessage. Job done.

      Buy your people an iPhone SE/2.

  5. J4

    The NHS - uniquely the same

    as every other health service. Sick people in. Fixed people out the front, unfixed out the back. Exactly the same as everywhere else. I could do this project in a week. $SearchEngineVerb the most commonly used hospital staff comms system deployed this century, across the G20 countries. Place order.

    1. Giles C Bronze badge

      Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

      Well why don’t you apply for the funding and pocket the cash after giving them a cheap reliable service, if I was in the situation of doing that I would rather than boasting I could on a forum.

      1. J4

        Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

        You're missing the point, but thanks for the downvote. The point is that this cash will go off to fund some massive, unachievable 75-blade swiss army knife proposal with huge scope creep from day one. As wiser commentators above point out, the organisation is so unwieldy that there will be no clear line of decision making, and everyone will want to shoehorn their pet functionality into it.

        What is actually needed is an acceptance that there is no need to re-invent the wheel. The NHS is sufficiently similar to the health services in all other industrialised countries that the project could just take a look at the most commonly used service in those countries, and buy that.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

          >The NHS is sufficiently similar to the health services in all other industrialised countries that the project could just take a look at the most commonly used service in those countries, and buy that.

          They could, but that depends on whether TPTB have learnt from history...

          The UK could have gone with the Tetrapol standard adopted across Europe, however, the UK wanted its own toy to satisfy some UK special/unique requirement (I forget what it was), so developed its own Tetra (Airwave) network.

          The jury is still out on whether the UK is going to actually build its own GPS/Gallileo satellite system, have its own space agency, etc. but if it does, I expect those wanting the 75-blade swiss army knive will get their way.

          1. tay comms

            Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

            To be fair TETRA was always an ETSI standard and available at scale. It was designed for public safety users. It just happens to have originated around the same time as 2G, so mobile data isn't it's strong point....

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

              Tetra works great for mobile data - at the fixed rate which is built in to the standard.

              And the rate received is pretty consistent as well IIRC, although I wasn't working on the RF side of Airwave.

              It doesn't compete with 4G, except in the rather common situation where there is no 4G coverage.

        2. Ken 16 Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

          No, it has to be British and World-beating.

    2. Jean Le PHARMACIEN

      Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

      "Fixed people out the front"

      Clearly you haven't worked in the NHS long enough"

      That should say "slightly less broken out the front"

      The vast majority of NHS in-patients I've met have chronic long term problems with multiple admissions per year. As they get older and their conditions progress (adding complications and new unrelated problems on the Way) the stays get longer.

      We even know them as "such and such is back"

      "But they only left 3 wks ago..."

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

        All of us suffer from the same long term fatal condition known as 'life'...

        1. Julz Silver badge

          Re: The NHS - uniquely the same

          Get your diodes fixed.

  6. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    "email is more secure" - what planet are they from.

  7. unbender

    The 160MHz carrier and it's ability to penetrate walls and go round corners is the magic that is going to be very hard to replace.

    IMHO the NHS is big enough that it should be able to use bespoke products as their end user population for almost anything is large enough to generate economies of scale. If they were to take the opportunity to add some marginal improvements to the existing pager system then they would have a device that others with similar coverage issues would adopt.

  8. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Pager the next generation...

    Is there a system for sending SMS over some low bandwidth unlicensed band to small dumb battery powered devices?

    1. Twanky Bronze badge
      Flame

      Re: Pager the next generation...

      Unfortunately:

      Mandatory functionality includes secure messaging, image sharing, staff directory (links to the global NHS.net address book), and calls. While meeting a long compliance list, including patient safety regulations, suppliers are also requested to look at options in connecting the communication system to patient lists, task management systems, video calls, and ERP systems.

      So instead of a belt clipped pager telling the doc to call in they get to carry an ipad-sized slab? Who the hell thought it was a good idea to replace a pager with something like this?

      Also: £3m? Across how many sites?

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Pager the next generation...

        >Also: £3m? Across how many sites?

        It's a framework agreement, covering England.

        Given the closing date is 6th July and the contract is expected to start on 27th July and run for two years, I expect they already have a shortlist of preferred suppliers and solution...

        Which given the back of the envelope costings, would seem to indicate a solution that works out to less than £12.50 pa per device/user which would indicate a 4G addon for an existing mobile phone contract...

        1. JetSetJim Silver badge

          Re: Pager the next generation...

          > Given the closing date is 6th July and the contract is expected to start on 27th July and run for two years, I expect they already have a shortlist of preferred suppliers and solution...

          I suspect Dido Harding will float to the foreground again, after her amazing job of spaffing nearly £12m on the failed track and trace app.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Pager the next generation...

      Seeing everyone in hospitals wandering around with the DECT phones they were all given - because of the scares about mobile phones interfering with the life-support systems - I would have thought most hospitals already had the technology to replace dedicated pagers with something that worked through walls.

      Hospitals stick to technology because it works - hence also the continuing use of faxes, or because they can't afford to replace it in which case calls for tender won't actually help.

      Quite why NHSX is involved, I can't fathom, but perhaps they've reassessed the level of their technology competence after Hancock's failed app and decided they're more comfortable with email.

  9. Arbuthnot the Magnificent

    Hospital pagers

    About 6 years ago I was involved in procuring a pager system for a new-build NHS hospital, and I worked alongside the winning vendor (Multitone) to implement it. They were the only sensible choice, and were a pleasure to deal with. Their system is robust and feature-rich, and to label it "archaic" is missing the point. The hospital was covered by dual redundant transmitters with dedicated cabling, analogue line as well as VoIP connectivity, and the devices themselves also supported WiFi IP connectivity. There were interfaces to the phone system and SMS links to staff mobiles as well - this thing was the absolute definition of belt and braces. To hear some muppet link Hancock say we need to get rid of it because it's obsolete like faxes is ridiculous. If I was going to go into cardiac arrest in the middle of a huge steel-framed building I know I'd rather the crash team was called on a Multitone pager than some Android app written by the lowest bidder.

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: Hospital pagers

      > I'd rather the crash team was called on a Multitone pager than some Android app written by the lowest bidder.

      Lowest bidder? You must be new here. Not being the lowest bidder is no barrier to lucrative government contracts, as long as you went to the right school or married the right toff.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Hospital pagers

        Lowest bidder: Lowest technical competence, not price

  10. tin 2

    Why is anyone debating this like anything that comes out of Hancock's mouth ever makes any sense.

    Pagers are great at what they do, and hospitals need what they do. Just buy a fecking pager manufacturer if the problem is they're going obsolete.

  11. Kernel

    Pagers v SMS

    Many years ago I was deeply involved with the installation and testing of a public nation-wide commercial paging service - long before cellphones and SMS were available.

    The huge advantage a properly designed paging system has over SMS is that paged messages are delivered in a fixed time frame eg., 30 secs, one minute, or whatever you've configured the system for - SMS, while it is generally pretty much immediate, doesn't have any delivery time comittments and any given message may turn up anywhere from seconds to hours after it was sent, especially if it has to cross from one network to another.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Pagers v SMS

      On the other hand (and I actually think that pagers are brilliant for many uses) since pager receivers are (often / always / usually?) receive-only, there's no return path to guarantee delivery - something that can be done (but isn't usually) with SMS.

      I don't know how it works these days but when I had a pager the "whatever you've configured the system for" wasn't a guaranteed delivery time, it was a length of time over which the message to be delivered was transmitted and repeated, and repeated and repeated, on the assumption that eventually the pager would receive it. I think for the commercial networks it was typically of the order of 30 minutes, maybe more.

      Another disadvantage of paging on a large scale is that there's no way of "routing" the message. If you have multiple transmitters, any one message has to be sent to all transmitters because you do not know where the intended receiver is.

      But, as has been pointed out several times in these comments, it does - generally - just work and the devices are robust, reliable and can run for days and days without charging.

      M.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Pagers v SMS

        > there's no return path to guarantee delivery ?

        The return path isn't to guarantee delivery but to positively acknowledge delivery.

        Regardless of what comm's medium is being used, manual procedures will need to exist to handle the all to frequent case of the intended recipient not responding within a given timeframe. Personally, I think the (technical) solution is to put the pager functionality into a smartwatch gismo and take advantage of the smartwatch-smartphone linkage to use the smartphone to start trying to get a data connection (using info. from the Pager message) plus reminding the user, if necesary, to move to a place with moble coverage. However, this means maintaining the pager broadcast networks...

        1. John 110

          Re: Pagers v SMS

          Not saying you're wrong, but you should know that wristwatch-like devices are currently persona non grata in the NHS due to Infection Control requirements (as are neckties - although (surprisingly) nametags on lanyards seem to be ok...)

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Pagers v SMS

            > but you should know that wristwatch-like devices are currently persona non grata in the NHS...

            They were decades back, I should have referred to the fob watches that midwives and nurses wear, but decided that people would understand the concept better if I referred to a "smartwatch gismo".

  12. veverett

    Lets be clear Mr Hancock's record on Apps is now a busted flush, what with his own App hacked in minutes and the failure of the Covid-19 app strategy.

    Hospitals should choose what is right for them. Pages are brilliant for local comms in buildings often with lots of steel and concrete. In addition faxes are brilliant for transmitting quick drawings of schematics if you do not have the document to hand. Its also handy to have a backup when the internet is down. This is a bad case of the Emperors new clothes with any new solution costing 3 times as much and not actually working for the crash team, which means it may not work for you when you are in need.

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