NHS England set to receive £5.9bn to tackle backlog

Chancellor's Budget reveals cash for IT improvements and diagnostic scanning equipment

Tomorrow's Budget is expected to help address the backlog created by the COVID-19 pandemic

Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is expected to announce that NHS England will receive £5.9billion to tackle the backlog of patients waiting for appointments, scans, and tests when he gives his Budget speech tomorrow.

Sunak will describe the new money as ‘game changing’ and ‘essential to ensure the NHS is fit for the future’.

And it will fund new and improved infrastructure and equipment, with £2.9billion alone to be used on diagnostic scanning equipment such as CT, MRI, and ultrasound scanners.

The announcement comes as figures suggest more than five million people are currently waiting for NHS appointments, with thousands of those having waited for over a year.

And, if this backlog is not dealt with swiftly, it Is thought that 14 million people could be left waiting for initial treatment by next autumn.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said that while the money will not be used to address the lack of staff in the NHS; it will go towards making the jobs of the current staff easier by ‘freeing up their time so they can spend more time with patients’.

There’s a danger that projects may create shiny-new digital technology siloes when the real need is for technology that enables truly-unified administrative processes to help clinicians and patients alike

Increased taxes and National Insurance contributions will finance the new spending and from next year the Health and Social Care Levy will be used to address the staffing issues.

Other areas where the new funding will be spent are include £1.5billion for hospital beds and surgical hubs, each with 4-5 surgery theatres; and £2.1billion for improvements to IT and digital interfaces such as faster broadband and software.

The NHS has received £97billion in additional funding since the pandemic began.

And the further £5.9billion will be on top of the already-agreed £8billion the Government have put in place to combat the backlog over the next three years.

The new is being welcomed by health tech suppliers. But they are warning that a whole-system approach is needed.

Speaking to BBH, Peter Wilson, public sector industry architect at Pegasystems, said: “Today’s announcement of new funding for technology to address NHS backlogs is certainly great news.

“But it is important that it doesn’t create new problems for the future.

While it’s positive news that £2.1billion has been earmarked for ‘improving IT and digital technology’, the only way to give the patients who need it a better and more direct route to care is by investing in digital triage

“There’s a danger that projects may create shiny-new digital technology siloes when the real need is for technology that enables truly-unified administrative processes to help clinicians and patients alike.

“For tackling the backlog, it’s essential to have a unifying platform that can better automate patient data processing to ensure queues for medical appointments and treatments are reduced rapidly and fairly. This includes a more-widespread use of intelligent automation and AI to help on decision-making and better patient outcomes in terms of when they are seen, treated, and provided with aftercare”

And Dr Murray Ellender, a practicing GP and co-founder of eConsult, added that there needed to be a renewed focus on communication and digital triage.

He said: “While it’s positive news that £2.1billion has been earmarked for ‘improving IT and digital technology’, the only way to give the patients who need it a better and more direct route to care is by investing in digital triage.

“The system is currently failing to do this.

“Our latest data tells us that nearly half of UK adults who visited the emergency room in the last 12 months did not require urgent A&E treatment. In fact, upon seeing a medical professional, 24% were told to visit another health professional, 13% of whom were sent to their GP, and 11% were sent to a pharmacist.

“By investing in triaging the needs of patients at the beginning of their healthcare journeys into general practice, A&E, or outpatients, we can get patients to the right clinician, at the right time, first time, and every time. This will create a digital eco-system for patients, improving patient outcomes and driving efficiency throughout the system.”

The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the entire system is built on a flawed infrastructure of insufficient and disconnected triage and if we don’t invest in this widespread change now, we not only face a bleak winter, but we may witness the ultimate breaking point for our NHS

He added: “Of course, cash injections like these may help with easing the immediate blow, but our healthcare system desperately requires a careful overhaul.

“Part of this means extra budget into assistive technologies intended to free up resources by empowering the clinician to focus on delivering more-effective and efficient healthcare journeys for the patient, and to spot the early signs of potentially-critical conditions, fast-tracking those patients to the right point of care.

“The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the entire system is built on a flawed infrastructure of insufficient and disconnected triage and if we don’t invest in this widespread change now, we not only face a bleak winter, but we may witness the ultimate breaking point for our NHS.”

Primary care must also receive investment to create a system that works from the bottom up, according to Piotr Orzechowski, founder and chief executive of Infermedica.

“Healthcare organisations should consider how investment can be used to enhance primary care.

“AI can streamline patient flow at the beginning of the journey, easing the sometimes-life-threatening logjam later on.

Equipping doctors with a much-deeper pool of data collected by AI empowers them to make more-informed diagnoses in shorter timeframe

“Such technology can handle symptom checking and triage, accurately analysing a patient’s condition and providing guidance around whether they should visit a doctor, hospital, or self care.

“This means a faster route to outcome for patients, while also freeing up physicians’ resources to focus on those who truly need the attention.

“What’s more, equipping doctors with a much-deeper pool of data collected by AI empowers them to make more-informed diagnoses in shorter timeframes.”

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