The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) provides mental health and learning disability services in Norfolk and Suffolk. The Trust has 4,000 employees, serving over 55,000 patients in the region. The Trust aims to help people to live a fulfilling life, putting service users and carers at the heart of their delivery. The Trust’s purpose of “working together for better mental health” underpins its operations.
NSFT is focused on improving the quality and availability of mental health services. IT is central to the Trust’s strategy, as the team aims to release valuable time for clinicians to focus on caring for those in need. However, the adoption of new digital services must be underpinned by confidence that data and applications are safe, and the system is resilient. That makes data backup and recovery critically important.
NSFTs key focus is improving the quality and availability of its mental health services.
IT systems are vital for delivering patient care, as they enable clinicians to access, share and update patient information. An outage could cause serious operational disruption and potentially affect the provision of critical care.
From the IT team’s perspective, this could have significant reputational consequences. Dave Jones, ICT infrastructure manager, noted, “We’re ultimately accountable for any data loss, and have full responsibility for recovering it, no matter how it was lost.”
This could hinder the IT team’s efforts to implement more digital services, to improve efficiency and delivery of services in the Trust, such as the extension of electronic prescribing, which warns clinicians about a patient’s allergies or any potential issues. Any data loss could also result in significant compliance challenges; such as breaching guidelines like The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which mandates that organizations will not only have to ensure that personal data is gathered legally and under strict conditions, but those who collect and manage it will be obliged to protect it from misuse and exploitation, as well as to respect the rights of data owners - or face penalties for not doing so.
However, the current backup solution at NSFT was not reliable enough. Jones was forced to deploy one engineer to spend half of each day troubleshooting and ensuring that the system was working, effectively dedicating half a person to the issue. The system relied on agents installed on every server to be backed up, creating complexity and resulting in potential security issues if software became out of date.
Importantly, the system took a significant amount of time to back up the main file servers. “We would start the backup servers at the end of the working day and come in to find they were still running the next morning,” recalled Jones. This had an operational impact for end users across the Trust, who would find that the whole IT system was slower than expected.
In December 2012, the Trust migrated to a new datacenter using Veeam to replicate virtual machines. Then, in 2014 when the IT team experienced backup problems, including one system where backups were simply unreliable. Jones, utilised Veeam as an Intelligent Data Management platform to run a second backup, to provide greater assurance. The team found Veeam’s solution much easier to use and gave them greater confidence at the time of restoration. As Jones remarks, “We had a few years of battling the old system, then Veeam came along and made everything easy. Now that risk has been removed we have the reliability that we need.”
The Trust also uses Veeam for disaster recovery, replicating data and applications from the main datacentre to the backup. Using the same system has saved time for the team, as its one less technique for them to learn. Veeam also offers plenty of potential for scripting and automating. As Jones noted, “The system is both really easy to use and really powerful.”