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The NHS is to use VoIP to improve the service offered by its 36 contact centres, it has been announced.

It is hoped that by linking up all facilities that offer a 24-hour information service on the same network, NHS Direct will be able to respond to emergencies quicker and more efficiently.

The introduction of VoIP should also see considerable cuts in the cost of running the service by doing away entirely with charges for phone calls, it is claimed.

Adrian Price, national ICT infrastructure manager at NHS Direct, said: "We wanted to improve the service we were offering, while benefiting from the cost savings that centralisation should bring.

"We recognised that the only way to create the desired consistency and efficiencies was through virtualisation - joining up all call centres to create a united appearance - and the only way to do that was to deploy IP telephony across the country."

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