Taxpayers' Alliance report calls for widespread deployment of new technology to free up funds for frontline patient care
The NHS and social care sector could save billions of pounds every year if it rolled out the use of robots and artificial intelligence, a new study reveals.
Research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance found that billions is being spent on expensive tests and treatment when widespread use of modern digital apps could transform care.
Embracing technology is crucial and the Department of Health is particularly important in this regard, because it would mean more lives saved
The report highlights innovations, such as the use of AI to analyse emergency calls, which were found to detect life-threatening situations more quickly.
It also found public demand for greater use of automated systems to book appointments.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Embracing technology is crucial and the Department of Health is particularly important in this regard, because it would mean more lives saved.
“It's been encouraging to see the current Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, embrace a technology-led improvement in the NHS, so that the system itself can harness the talent and hard work of many doctors and nurses working within it.
“[But} to be sure the NHS can be improved, within its budget, more can be spent on new tech to deliver greater returns on outputs in the future.”
He adds: “Politicians from all parties should embrace coming technological changes so that public service delivery, not just in healthcare, can keep up with the standards taxpayers expect and, after all, pay for.”
The research found that 90% of people prefer to book GP appointments online, with an enthusiasm for replacing GP receptionists with automated systems.
It estimates that the amount of staff time saved by greater use of such technology is equivalent to £12.5billion a year, around a tenth of the health service budget.
Tech transformation in the NHS directly unlocks or frees resources for just about every other improvement we want to see, from using data to help boost cancer survival rates to joining up health and care to giving clinicians back the precious gift of time
In a foreword to the report, Hancock said: “Tech transformation in the NHS directly unlocks or frees resources for just about every other improvement we want to see, from using data to help boost cancer survival rates to joining up health and care to giving clinicians back the precious gift of time.
“Longer term, it’s the only way we’re going to bridge the gap between finite resources and the growing demand of an ageing population.”
The report, and Hancock’s ongoing support for an NHS digital transformation, has also been welcomed by specialist healthcare technology suppliers.
Orlando Agrippa, chief executive of healthcare data analytics solutions provider, Draper and Dash, told BBH: “Adoption of new technology is integral to ensure the continual improvement and increased efficiency of our national healthcare system and our NHS hospitals.
“We are at a critical stage where technology can enable real change and this latest report highlights that, in order to achieve this, it’s crucial we ensure financial resources are being directed towards driving innovation.”
The latest figures show that A&E waits across the country have reached their worst level since the four-hour waiting time target was introduced.
Agrippa said the main problem facing hospitals is forecasting patient flow.
“Predicted numbers do not currently correspond with the reality of the situation,” he revealed.
“Investment in innovative technology is therefore fundamental to giving hospitals real insights so they understand whether they are running at anticipated capacity in regards to their workforce and other resources.
Politicians from all parties should embrace coming technological changes so that public service delivery, not just in healthcare, can keep up with the standards taxpayers expect and, after all, pay for
“Developments in insights and analytics solutions can now provide hospitals with live machine learning driven predictive insights, rather than a more-basic snapshot of forecasted wait times.
“Advanced AI-powered data science is essential to predicting demand and patient flow, and this is just one of the areas that the NHS must invest in in order to improve patient experience and ensure smoother processes within A&E departments.”
And John Gikopoulos, global head of AI and automation at Infosys Consulting, said: “AI and automation are becoming more prevalent in healthcare and this report marks the turning point.
“By next year, millions of patients with any condition will be supported by automation technologies, either as part of diagnostics, treatment, or administration.
“While this may be invisible to the patients themselves, healthcare providers from GPs to hospitals will reap the benefits of greater efficiencies, both in terms of costs and staff productivity. AI and automation will also give much better insights into health conditions and their treatment.
“But automation is not a silver bullet. From the outset, hospitals, trusts and surgeries need to have a vision and strategy in place.
“A common misconception is that artificial intelligence is seen as a ‘nice-to-have’, a sticking plaster to existing challenges an organisation faces.
“But the NHS does not have the luxury of adopting this technology simply for hype and approaching AI and automation in a piecemeal fashion won’t solve any problems.
“To make the most of the opportunities these technologies bring, the NHS must build automation and AI into its entire strategy – starting now.”
Paul Richards, director at TeleTracking UK, said key to improving efficiency within the health system was better bed management.
He told BBH: “Long waits are soaring for patients as demand escalates and resources continue to be stretched. And it looks as though no relief is in sight, as the 95% target for A&E patients to be seen within four hours has not been met since July 2015.
“There will always be individuals in need, and looking at this figure it is evident that something needs to change.
“As Matt Hancock has highlighted, the NHS must adopt innovative technology to save vital costs and provide a more-efficient care experience.
“This opportunity is particularly prominent when it comes to addressing the well-recognised challenge of bed blocking.
“Over the past five years social services have fallen by 11%, which has caused a record level of people with no medical urgency being stuck in hospital because they can’t be supported at home. While this is not a new problem, current thinking around the issue is flawed.
While the complexities from many moving patients and unexpected change will never completely go away, automated solutions that provide transparency will help hospitals to pro-actively predict and plan for any future hold-ups
“Hospitals now need to better understand the bed management process - and that requires both visibility and measurement of idle bed time.”
Commenting on the role of technology, he added: “The implementation of real-time tools, automation and data will enable healthcare professionals to measure the current level of time these patients spend unnecessarily in a hospital bed.
“With this insight, they’ll be in a better position to assess how they can make the most of the resources available to them and to make better decisions that will transform the discharge process.
“While the complexities from many moving patients and unexpected change will never completely go away, automated solutions that provide transparency will help hospitals to pro-actively predict and plan for any future hold-ups.
“This will have a positive knock-on effect on the entire care eco system, helping to reduce the end-to-end demand on all social and healthcare services.”