NHS should embrace automation to save £12bn a year

The NHS could save up to £12.5 billion a year by investing in digital technologies to automate certain administrative tasks, a new report to be published this month will say.

The report is led by former health minister Lord Darzi, a pioneer in robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery.

Within the social care sector, a further £6 billion in productivity could be gained by introducing digital technology, which the report states could carry out 30% of current tasks. More so, automating certain tasks won’t result in job losses, the report will state. Instead, digital technology will be able to complement human skills by reducing the burden of repetitive and administrative tasks and freeing up staff to spend more time on patient care.

Tasks such as communicating medical notes, booking appointments and processing prescriptions are identified as ones that should be carried out through digital technology. The report states that in the future robots and artificial-intelligence based systems will play a major role in the delivery of healthcare.

For instance, digital triage could assess and direct patients to where they need to be and AI-based systems could help accurately diagnose diseases such as pneumonia, breast and skin cancers, eye diseases and heart conditions.

Lord Darzi also notes that systems are robot-assisted technologies are already able to perform surgical tasks such as tying knots and making stitches with greater accuracy and dexterity than humans.

Other technologies such as bedside robots may also become a reality, assisting patients with meals, transportation and portering, and rehabilitation, the report will say. More so, biosensors will allow remote monitoring and could alert clinicians to potentially life-threatening conditions such as sepsis.

Outside of the NHS, ‘care-bots’ will assist people in old age, improving lives and social care. The report will mention that this technology will enable people to remain more socially connected to friends and family.

Echoing a remark by Aneurin Bevan, health minister when the NHS was launched in 1948, Lord Darzi’s report says: “In the 21st century NHS, it might not be the sound of a bedpan dropping that is heard in Whitehall, but that of a robot picking it up. The NHS turns 70 this year but we must turn our sights to the future. We should not accept an analogue NHS in a digital decade.”

Lord Darzi is calling on the government to embrace a strategy aimed at delivering full automation for repetitive and administrative tasks in health and care. He states that an automation fund should be set up to invest in the digital infrastructure and to offer all staff impacted by automation “the right to retrain”, with a focus on filling gaps caused by staffing organisations within the service.

Commenting on the report, Mark Bridger, vice president of information management company,  OpenText said:“Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services. While sci-fi films can distort the impact of AI technology, it’s time to stop viewing AI as an existential threat to our livelihoods and our health. AI will transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation but it cannot replace people. The true value of AI will be found in it working alongside humans to ease the pressure across the healthcare system as well as making our lives easier. By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, healthcare organisations can gain access to real-time information and sophisticated insights – empowering them to improve decision-making and deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of UK citizens.”

Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via: reece.armstrong@rapidnews.com

'NHS should embrace automation to save £12bn a year' has 1 comment

  1. June 15, 2018 @ 10:37 am John

    The savings from innovation projects can be overestimated. I have no doubt that savings can be made from using AI and other IT but to suggest that the savings of this magnitude could be made seems incredible. I’ll read the report with interest, scrutinizing it for detail.


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