The NHS could free up frontline staff time worth up to £12.5 billion a year (almost 10% of its annual running cost) by investing in a programme of automation, according to research.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published the findings from its Darzi report, which will be released in full next month. It stated that a further £6 billion productivity gain could be realised through automation within social care, where 30% of current tasks could be carried out by adopting various technologies, according to the report.
The report suggested that, while fears that automation will lead to job losses exist in some industries, in health and social care this would “complement human skills and talents” by reducing repetitive and administrative tasks and freeing up staff to spend more time on direct clinical care with patients.
The report identified communicating medical notes, booking appointments and processing prescriptions as among the many activities that should be digitised. Its researchers calculated the value of the time that may be released through automation of current tasks in different roles, freeing up professionals to focus on caring.
Consultant surgeon and Labour MP Ara Darzi said that these systems are already able to undertake some surgical tasks such as tying knots and making stitches with greater accuracy and dexterity than humans, and that these developments are set to expand.
Darzi called for the government to embrace a strategy aimed at delivering “full automation” for repetitive and administrative tasks in health and care. He proposed creating an automation fund to invest in the digital infrastructure needed, and to offer all staff affected by automation "the right to retrain", with a focus on filling gaps caused by staffing organisations within the service.
In the report Darzi said: '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.'