The arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 brought unprecedented and accelerated changes to the way in which the NHS embraced technology to deliver its services. It also impacted NHS staff, for example:
- changing the way many people work
- unlocking new opportunities
- reinforcing the importance of looking after our own health and wellbeing
- allowing individuals to engage more with their role
In May 2020, NHS Digital reported almost half a million messages were sent around the NHS using Microsoft (MS) Teams.
The NHS developed a clear aim to become a more flexible employer in line with other sectors, offering more flexible working solutions for staff to help to retain existing people and attract more people to work with us. The NHS People Plan, published in July 2020, clearly identified that to survive and prosper, the NHS must commit to offering more flexible, varied, roles and more opportunities for flexible working.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on primary care resulted in the wider use of digital technology to increase the use of remote appointments for patients. It also encouraged more patient use of remote health services such as the NHS App, NHS login, online consultations and e-prescription services, and enabled remote working for primary care staff.
An integral element of the remote working solution was to provide all staff who have an NHS.net account with access to Microsoft Teams.
What is Microsoft (MS) Teams?
MS Teams is a secure communications platform which can be protected and monitored within the NHS secure boundary when accessed via secure NHS networks.
It is a collaboration tool, providing the technology for people to work together remotely and share information easily.
It is a virtual hub for teamwork which allows people to chat, call, and work together on shared files, sharing information with everyone across different locations. It can support on-site, remote, and mobile working, allowing NHS staff to continue to deliver care and advice.
With MS Teams you can:
- invite NHSmail and non-NHSmail users to meetings
- start calls and send messages on the go
- organise meetings with up to 250 attendees
- collaborate with multi-disciplinary teams and organise your work into different channels for more structured collaborations
- organise, host, and record live events, which can be useful for training sessions and virtual conferences with a large audience (up to 10,000 attendees)
Benefits of MS Teams
MS Teams has a wide range of benefits for staff and for employing organisations, including:
- it is a free and efficient tool for NHS staff, to support remote working
- increased efficiency, for example, less time travelling to attend meetings
- online meetings can be scheduled ahead of time or to start instantly
- allows the set up and use of chat rooms to divide work between multiple groups
- supports virtual meetings with high quality audio and video
- provides an option to chat to colleagues via messages or to send voice notes, and share files before during and after meetings
- chat messages and shared files are available so they can be referred to at any time
- provides the ability to allow captioning of messages during the meeting which can be particularly useful for people with a hearing impairment
- includes a Notes function to allow meeting notes to be recorded and accessed either during the meeting or later
- offers a ‘record the meeting’ function so that the session can be accessed again later by attendees or those who were not able to attend but have been shared the link by the host
- provides support for multi-professional collaboration
- free secure cloud storage ensures information is always available across various devices allowing people to work together in real time or in their own time
- sensitive information is protected with data encryption at rest and in transit
- reduces staff isolation when working remotely or as part of a widely dispersed team
- it is easy to use, with online help and support
Top tips for getting started
- Sign-in using your NHS.net account.
- Read the information and watch the videos on NHSmail.
- Set aside part of a practice meeting to get used to using Teams.
- Set up Team areas for you and your colleagues:
- you can be a member of more than one team
- a Team can be set up for any group of colleagues who need to work together and share information. For example:
- your whole GP practice
- the clinical team
- the admin team
- nursing network – practice nurses and allied healthcare professionals (AHPs) across different practices
- across a primary care network (PCN)
- contact your local administrator to set this up for you. You will need the email addresses of all your team members. See here to find your local administrator.
- Hold a start-up meeting with your team to try it out before you need it.
- Appoint a digital hero or champion from within your team to help others to understand how to access and use the functions offered, training is available free via the support service Digital heroes.
- Organise your information. You can share and edit documents in Teams, which means that you can all work on the same single copy. Create a folder structure at the beginning and ensure that you file and name documents sensibly. It will make life easier going forward. Shared files can be restricted to allow only those users identified to make and save changes.
Good uses of MS Teams in primary care
Examples of using Teams to good effect in primary care include creating:
- specific Team areas for individual organisations to allow groups to share non-clinical conversations and learning, helping to develop a team culture within the organization
- Teams and project areas to support clinical groups (e.g., nursing or pharmacist teams) to develop new pathways (e.g., clinical triage, structured medication reviews, etc.)
Teams is also able to provide significant integration opportunities with other local software solution such as Office365, SharePoint, OneDrive, and other products in the Microsoft suite.
Note | It’s good practice to delete teams created when no longer required!
MS Teams telephony
MS Teams telephony functionality allows NHS staff to make outbound calls independent of their existing telephone solutions. This means existing telephone lines can remain free for incoming calls. As part of the NHS England WNHS Engalnd Winter access programme, this functionality will be available to general practice until at least 30 April 2023. The functionality will remain beyond this date but may not be funded.
MS Teams user guides and information
The NHSmail website has a range of user guides.
MS Teams support
Your local GP IT delivery partner may be able to provide support and services including configuration, training, and incident management.
NHS staff now often work from home or from a remote location for a variety of reasons. The introduction of PCN roles that cover several practices means teams are not always physically located together. Digital technology provides the ability for people to work more flexibly from different locations just as effectively as teams physically located in general practice.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, many staff members may want to continue to work remotely as it benefits their work and personal life balance. Some staff may prefer a hybrid way of working or to return to their workplace on a full-time basis.
It is important that employers are aware that all staff have a legal right to request flexible or home working and employers should remember to have regular conversations with their staff to ensure their current needs are met and they are supported.
Remote working has the potential to increase the pool of specialist or clinical capacity to help overcome the challenges posed by access to clinical space, geography, working hours and recruitment black spots. Remote staff can be extremely effective in the form of ‘one off’ support to help practices experiencing temporary staff shortages or as ongoing business as usual remote support.
It is important to remember that employers still have a duty of care to employees working remotely, including ensuring health and safety is considered with employers providing detailed guidance and advice. The Health and Safety Executive provides guidance on risk assessments for home workers including a checklist for display screen equipment.
Remote working considerations
Employers should take the following into account when considering if remote working arrangements are appropriate:
- Can the work involved be done adequately from a remote location which can ensure patient confidentiality is maintained?
- Can communication with other people/colleagues be organised?
- Does the employee have the self-discipline to work remotely?
- Can the employee cope with being isolated during the working day?
- If working from home, can the employee separate home life and work life successfully, both physically, and emotionally?
- Can the necessary resources be provided to allow successful remote working?
- Does the remote working environment offer adequate connectivity to work efficiently in a secure way?
Equipment and services required to support remote working
GP practice staff working away from their practice will need a range of services, depending on their role. The main equipment options are:
- NHS provided laptop with all required software necessary for the role to allow secure VPN access and where needed a smartcard reader, or
- virtual desktop service – some areas have deployed virtualised desktop infrastructure which enables access to critical systems and services from corporate and personal devices (this removes the need to deploy full versions of the applications on the user’s device)
Security and confidentiality
Staff using their own devices should take reasonable steps to ensure information is safe, internet access is secure, strong passwords are set, and secure channels are used to communicate.
Confidential information should not be stored on any device unless it is necessary, and appropriate security is in place. Information should be safely transferred to the appropriate health and care record as soon as possible and all downloaded or deleted confidential information still stored on the device (e.g., in the recycling/ deleted items bin) be permanently deleted when no longer needed.
Benefits of remote working
The benefits of remote working include:
- staff are able to work more flexibly
- less commuting time for staff
- staff are able to work in a more relaxed and comfortable environment
- allowing the wider multi-disciplinary team to stay in touch and be involved in practice meetings
- allowing the workforce to be strengthened during a crisis
- enabling sessional clinical staff to take on clinical work and support remote services such as NHS 111
Top tips for remote working
- Work in a separate private space to keep information safe.
- Reduce paper handling to zero, if possible, but if you do have paper documents remember they are vulnerable to theft or misplacement.
- Ensure any physical documents you have with you are kept safe, at home or when travelling between locations.
- Set and stick to a routine where possible.
- Set up a dedicated workspace away from distractions.
- Have regular breaks to avoid burnout.
- Keep in regular contact with colleagues to avoid isolation.
- Ask for help if you are struggling and need support.
- Be cautious about the use of public Wi-Fi. It may be preferable to work offline and connect later when at home or back in the practice on a more secure network.
- Be alert to scams via email or telephone calls especially if asking you to renew your password or login credentials.
- Don’t click on suspicious links or open suspicious attachments.
- Access emails from NHS websites by directly typing the URL or using bookmarked links. Never follow links in emails as these may be phishing attacks and may lead users to inadvertently revealing passwords.
- Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to ensure access to information remains secure.
- Make sure the software on your laptop or PC is up to date.
- Protect the information on your screen if you are in a public place or shared accommodation.
- Never leave equipment unattended and always lock your workstation when away from it.
- Report any incidents as soon as you become aware of them.
Related GPG content
- Smartcards and access control (RBAC)
- NHS Care Identity Service 2 (CIS2)
- Primary Care Networks (PCNs)
- Cyber security
- NHS login
- NHS App
- Electronic Prescription Service (EPS)
- Online consultation tools
Other helpful resources
- East London Foundation NHS Trust, Working with Microsoft Teams
- NHS England and NHS Improvement, Guidance: NHS Teams enabled for users of NHSmail
- Microsoft, training for NHS staff covering Teams and Office 365 (NHSMail account required for access)
- NHS Digital, guidance on types of remote access solutions
- Group consultations, Frequently asked questions about group consultations
- Digital Health article, Tavistock and Portman FT deploy virtualised desktop service
- TPP SystmOne, Internet First and Isosec virtual smartcards: improving the remote working experience for healthcare providers