Willows Health is the largest primary care organisation in Leicestershire, serving over 46,000 patients across 10 sites. Through close collaboration with the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), Demontfort University, and the University of Leicester, Willows Health have one of the strongest research footprints in the East Midlands.

The in-house academy provides world-class undergraduate medical education and the postgraduate faculty works with Health Education East Midlands to deliver the highest quality of training for tomorrow’s healthcare leaders.

The Challenge

Willows Medical Centre, servicing around 6,000 patients, were struggling with an “on premises solution, which had been in place for about four years” says Kieran Mann, CIO at Willows Health.

“We were struggling to get lines in and out, especially during peak hours. We were on a ISDN system, with a server on site and were looking for providers to help with the transition to cloud.”

The Solution

After a selection process Surgery Connect was installed at Willows Medical Centre, immediately alleviating the busy signal problem. By way of example, Kieran explains that Willows Medical Centre “takes calls for practices in Leicester when they have training sessions. It’s quite significant, probably in the thousands, hitting the service on a Wednesday afternoon, once a month. X-on installed Surgery Connect the day before we went live on that service for the Leicestershire and Rutland CCGs. It was amazing because, if it had been any later, we wouldn’t have been able to offer that service to the practices. Our phone system wouldn’t have been able to handle it.”

After a process of acquisition, Willows Health was formed, so “we’ve gone from that single site to 10 sites now, servicing about 46,000 patients, with a workforce approaching 200. All our sites are now with X-on, having migrating the other sites over. Now we’re looking to bring them all together as a one unit.”

Having dealt with the capacity issues, and as the rollout across the joining practices continued, Willows Health began to explore some of the other features offered by Surgery Connect: “In the past we didn’t have any reporting capability whatsoever, so we didn’t really know what was going on. The reporting side of Surgery Connect has been phenomenal. We’re running reports all the time, trying to discover who’s taken calls, do we need to allocate more reception folks during this time, how many calls do we take during the training days, which are called PLTs, and feeding those numbers back to the CCG. Reporting is massive for us.

“The heads up display as well. Our operations managers can go in and see, ‘okay, we’ve got X amount of people in the queue. Do we need to do something about that?’ The reporting side is a lot more helpful when you have one system to deal with, rather than a whole bunch.”

Working from Home

In addition to the on-desk handsets, Surgery Connect includes a softphone. For Willows Health the benefit has been that “if someone’s having to self isolate from home, but they want to continue working, they can just log onto the softphone and they’re in, say, the reception queue. Same goes for the GPs working from home as well, because they’re effectively taking calls. You can have remote GPs, if you need to quickly scale up and say to them, ‘Hey, can you jump into this session, just log in and you’ve already got our electronic health records.’ Just go to the phone system and off you go. I think those two areas get very heavy usage.

“We were lucky we were using the X-on systems throughout the pandemic. It meant that people could continue working from home.”

The team at Willows Health are looking at other features to improve resource efficiency. As Kieran points out: “We’re looking at other parts of the platform as well. X-flow, for example, that’s a very interesting kind of tool, especially when you’ve got lots of sites. You go into that and think ‘Hang on, why is the call flow designed like this?’ We can reconfigure it and reduce call waiting times.”

Site Merge

“The biggest thing for us, and the most exciting thing, is merging all these sites into one unit. What that means for us is that we have a global address list, or a global number list, of everyone in our practices. That is super efficient. You can go to a list, find your colleague and call them directly.”

Kieran continues: “Number two would be the resilience that we’ve gained through this; it’s massive. Let’s say there’s another COVID variant, you can have a whole site reception team working from home, for example.

“When we’re taking calls for other practices on those PLT days, we can have people dotted around from any site and just jumping into the queue when they have capacity.”

Utilising Surgery Connect, Willows Health are keen to see how their business can continue to be improved “with patient feedback and training. We have a massive cohort now of calls that we can analyse and understand how could we do this better. That’s what we’re really excited about, having the one unit; when we acquire sites, we can just bolt the site into this single unit and be up and running straight away.”


Willows Health use the SystmOne clinical system which integrates seemlessly with Surgery Connect, allowing staff and GPs to access patient data and record calls to the patient record easily while on a call, and from wherever they are located.

Call Centre

Surgery Connect has been built from the ground up utilising X-on Contact Centre technology, and can be configured to provide a call centre facility for GP Federations and PCNs. Willows Health are “figuring out if that will be an option. We need to hire the right staff, who are trained in the call centre way of working; Surgery Connect gives the ability to do that very easily. We need to do that because the demands on primary care are just getting higher and higher. Allocating more reception staff to answer the calls is not the best use of resources.”

CQC Rating

“We’re acquiring practices and trying to turn their CQC rating to good, from whatever they were, which is usually below that. The phone system, call waiting and patient feedback are huge to this: what is their experience when speaking to their practice? Are they waiting for a long time in the queue? Do they get busy tone? It’s all very important to focus on.”


“We are our own PCN because we are large enough, it’s very straightforward because we are one business, but the model is no different for a PCN. If we can say to other PCNs ‘Look, this is what we did, this is how you can improve’, at least they have a blueprint which doesn’t really exist right now. They can know that: ‘Oh, we could eventually create a call centre’, but if they’re not really sure how to bring it to fruition, this blueprint should be really helpful for them.”

“We didn’t really know the art of the possible. Now, our staff demand these things, really, and they should, so we’re thankfully able to enable them through the X-on platform.

“Practices are realising they need to move into a modern system.”

Kieran Mann MSc MBCS, Executive Director & Chief Information Officer, IT Directorate & Head Of Research at Willows Health