NECS Covid remote access

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To enable efficient and safe working during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICT Service Delivery team at NECS was asked to rapidly mobilise a Use Your Own Device (UYOD) Remote Access solution within NECS itself. The objective was to provide additional remote access and significantly improve the effectiveness of ICT services utilised by GP practices to enhance clinical delivery in response to COVID-19. 

Our response

The team was presented with numerous challenges which had to be rapidly overcome, including: 

  • set-up of an appropriate datacentre infrastructure and software configuration  
  • ensuring that the solution was appropriately protected from cyber threats  
  • completion of relevant governance activities  
  • engaging with users to rapidly mobilise the solution. 

    As COVID-19 activities were prioritised, the team designed a suitable UYOD solution and planned the deployment. The solution design was rapidly developed and daily monitoring of progress was put in place. 

    The NECS datacentre servers were re-purposed to provide an appropriate platform to deploy VMWare’s Horizon View VDI solution. Servers were configured and provisioned with network and firewall connections to allow them to be accessed securely.  

    An agile approach was adopted with the initial release of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to a limited cohort of 50 users. This initially provided a critical subset of the overall functionality, but to date the solution has evolved and now covers:  

    • Windows 10 & Apple Mac support  
    • EMIS and SystmOne clinical systems access  
    • Device security posture controls to ensure devices used are secure  
    • Two Factor Authentication token on users’ smartphones  
    • SmartCard enablement  
    • Access to NHS “Spine” services including EPS, PDS and SCR  
    • Access to network drives, Intranet and web based applications  
    • Connection to Adastra and Docman  
    • EMIS and SystmOne interfacing with Sunquest ICE. 

    A dedicated support team was mobilised to onboard users to the new service, working daily between 8am and 10pm, seven days a week, over a three-week period. 

    A comprehensive risk assessment against NCSC, ICO and NHS IGA guidance was also completed, alongside a third-party penetration test to ensure that the solution was secure. 

    Person remote working


    This solution allowed users (via their own home computers) to securely connect directly to NECS data centres across the internet to access systems as they would when in their GP practices. 

    As a significant proportion of GPs and practice support staff self-isolated during the pandemic, with many of them still able to work effectively, this solution allowed the mobilisation of remote working at scale across GP practices in the North East, North Yorkshire, Vale of York and Derbyshire.  

    With the global shortage of laptop devices, this game-changing platform removed the reliance on providing laptops and VPN solutions with a cost effective and agile solution. Clinicians were able to use their own home PC to access clinical platforms securely, removing the risks inherent in deploying and re-deploying laptops for clinicians who were moving in and out of self-isolation.  

    The solution was deployed in the NECS DSP Toolkit assured datacentres, but had the ability to be up-scaled easily, with plans to build on this platform and provide a wider range of capabilities to a broader user base.  

    There were many benefits to the platform: 

    • Fully secure: assurance for users that their continued operations are not compromised in any way 
    • Responsive solutions: able to evolve with user needs, with new features being added over time providing beneficial and appropriate improvements 
    • Flexibility: GPs and practice staff able to work remotely, providing a safe environment for those who were self-isolating to operate effectively 
    • Efficiency and patient care: more patient appointments were delivered ensuring they got the best care possible during a critical time 
    • Fully supported by the experienced NECS ICT Service Delivery team: remote, guided on-boarding process for users who were operational in less than an hour. 

    “Following an accelerated period of development, testing and mobilisation, the solution now provides remote access for clinicians and support staff across the North East of England, North Yorkshire, Vale of York and Derbyshire. The UYOD solution has the capacity for 1000 GP practice users to gain secure remote access, including to their GP clinical systems. 

    Rick McLeod

    Chief Technology Officer at NECS, NECS