Automation and technology key to tackling 'enormous' NHS backlog

New Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, warns of the pressures facing the NHS as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and says technology has a key role to play

Supporting frontline staff through the use of innovative technology will be crucial to the NHS's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

The health sector must continue to embrace technology and automation, new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, warned this week as he revealed the ‘enormous pressure’ the NHS is facing with the backlog of patients that has built up as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Javid revealed that, because of Coronavirus, it is estimated that seven million fewer patients then normal came forward to access healthcare services.

And, even if only some of that demand returns, the pressure heaped on already-struggling services could bring the service to its knees.

It’s time to build on the spirit of innovation we’ve all embraced and use it for the other challenges we face: from finally fixing social care and putting it on a sustainable footing, to tackling the health inequalities that the pandemic has brought to the fore

Javid wrote: “We have many crucial health challenges that we need to confront.

“We protected the NHS to make sure it was there for everyone who needed care.

“The steps we took saved countless lives, but also led to the build up of a vast ‘elective’ backlog – checks, appointments, and treatments for all the less urgent, but often just as important, health issues.”

And he added: “To help meet this demand, build a better NHS, and bust the backlog, we need to build on the changes we’ve all embraced through the pandemic, such as using NHS 111 to direct patients to the most-appropriate setting to receive care, expanding the use of our pharmacies, and encouraging more people to use the NHS app.

Sajid Javid

“We have to keep doing all of that, and more.

“We’re putting record levels of funding into the NHS.

“In March, we committed a further £7billion of funding – including £1billion to begin tackling the elective backlog and about £500m for mental health services and investment in staff.

“And we’re bringing so many more talented colleagues into the workforce.”

But, also key, he said, was continuing to embrace technology to support services and lessen the paperwork burden on staff.

“It’s time to build on the spirit of innovation we’ve all embraced and use it for the other challenges we face: from finally fixing social care and putting it on a sustainable footing, to tackling the health inequalities that the pandemic has brought to the fore,” he said.

“I’m determined we get that right.

“There’s a lot of work ahead, but if we hold on to the spirit that has seen us through these difficult days, we will have a country that is not just freer, but healthier, too.”

Every NHS trust should be examining processes to prioritise what can, and should, be automated, and taken off over-stretched human workers

Responding to his comments, Richard Farrell, chief innovation officer at Netcall, told BBH: “The latest warning from Sajid Javid caused by COVID-19 is a stark reminder that we are not out of the woods just yet.

“Firefighting has been the priority over the last year, with multitudes of consultations, procedures and surgeries postponed.

To overcome this and improve patient experience in the new normal, optimum efficiency, powered by automation, will be critical.

“Every NHS trust should be examining processes to prioritise what can, and should, be automated, and taken off over-stretched human workers.

“In addition to high-level patient and employee-focused processes, this includes going back to basics and utilising RPA and low-code to automate tasks such as invoicing processing, back-office administration, and operations across various departments.

“Not only will this increase efficiency and help alleviate patient backlogs, but it will also give healthcare staff more time to focus on what really matters: patient care.”