NHS staff urgently need health tech investments to tackle rising wait times
Mon 20 Nov 2023
NHS staff are voicing an urgent need for substantial investments in health tech to combat increasing wait times for diagnoses and treatments.
This call for action follows a new research study by BT, which highlights a strong consensus among NHS employees on the potential of digital innovation to improve healthcare services.
Professor Sultan Mahmud, BT’s Director of Healthcare, emphasised the urgency of the situation: “The message is clear: ‘embrace digital tech and cut wait times’. Those on the frontline and behind the scenes have told us that investing in digitally-enabled services like diagnostics, care closer to home, and the careful use of AI in areas like diagnostics and NHS back office functions could help improve productivity.”
The research indicates that 74% of NHS staff consider future tech investments a priority. Digital diagnostic tools like virtual image streaming and community-based healthcare services such as virtual wards are revolutionising access to health services, but more than half (59%) of NHS workers believe that the slow adoption of these pilots is hampering patient care.
A staggering 93% of NHS staff consider rapid access to diagnosis and treatment critically important, with 89% echoing this sentiment for reducing test result wait times. Hospital waiting lists have soared, with 7.7 million individuals awaiting treatment as of August, a dramatic increase from the pre-pandemic figure of 4.43 million. Furthermore, 1.5 million are waiting for diagnostic tests.
“We have the technology. What we need now is a coordinated approach. Government, citizens, NHS leaders, and tech providers must work together to focus on the investment in infrastructure and delivery mechanisms that can help the challenged workforce. This is about realising the digital dividend of improved patient experience and reduced administrative burden for our clinicians.”
BT’s research also revealed that 81% of NHS staff believe that greater use of digital diagnostic tools would reduce NHS wait times, while 83% see them as a means to improve patient outcomes. Additionally, the majority of staff (76%) agree that these investments would ultimately reduce NHS costs.
Dr Paul Bhogal, Consultant Interventional Neuroradiologist and member of BT’s Clinical Advisory Board, underscored the potential of technology: “The challenges facing the NHS are considerable, in some cases chronic, and nobody is under the illusion that the solutions will be simple, but clearly technological innovation is a big part of how we are going to succeed.”
More than half (53%) of NHS staff believe AI will notably impact clinical service delivery, particularly through automated appointment booking and enhanced diagnostic accuracy. A majority of NHS staff are convinced that AI can reduce wait times (63%), improve patient outcomes (65%), and decrease the cost of patient care (56%).
However, challenges remain. A lack of integration with legacy technologies and the slow rollout of successful pilots are major obstacles, as noted by 72% and 59% of NHS staff, respectively. Training is also pivotal, with two-thirds (67%) of NHS employees highlighting the need for digital training as a key investment area.
“We live in exciting times, especially in the world of diagnostics. If we want to improve access to healthcare in the UK, while improving patient outcomes, we must find technology that works, and put it in the hands of those that can put it to work,” added Bhogal.
BT’s findings align with earlier research conducted this summer, which polled the general public’s views on digital technology in healthcare. The results mirrored NHS staff opinions, with a majority (64%) considering it a worthwhile investment.
This pressing call from NHS staff for digital transformation underscores the critical role of technology in enhancing the UK’s healthcare system and the need for swift action to realise these benefits.