Automating admin tasks could save the NHS billions

An NHS trust is using robot workers to help it save time and money, following the news that automation could save the NHS as much as £12.5bn, according to computing.co.uk

A report released earlier this year claimed that automation had the potential to save the NHS as much as £12.5bn a year. This is approximately 10% of the service’s budget.

Now, the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) is working with Thoughtonomy to automate its back-office systems, cutting down on the hours that staff spend on time-consuming – yet vital – data entry work.

Since July, the trust has been deploying ‘virtual workers’ alongside human staff in five of Ipswich Hospital’s specialist clinics in order to trial this idea of making them increasingly automated.

Three virtual workers are being used by the trust to automate specific processes which has, for example, cut the time taken to process the first stage of referrals from 20 minutes down to five minutes.

This would save the equivalent of 500 hours of medical secretaries’ time in the space of three months.

ESNEFT believes that, in the space of a year, it will save as much as £220,000.

The workers monitor incoming referrals from the GP Electronic Referral Service constantly at all hours of the day, meaning they can act immediately. They are able to extract the necessary information from each referral and merge all of it onto a PDF document, then uploading this data to the necessary administrative systems and alerting the relevant consultant.

Neurologist Dr Petr Pokorny, who works at Ipswich Hospital, said that the new automated system “allows for a more efficient, fluent flow of work, as it’s easier to deal with five new referrals every morning rather than a huge pile of 35 referrals once a week.

“What’s more, we now have our medical secretaries fully focused on the things that make a real difference to our staff and patients.”

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Darren Atkins, deputy director of ICT at ESNEFT, added:

“We’re delighted with the results we’ve realised so far and are hugely excited about the potential benefits of automating more processes across our Trust.

“When you look at the time and cost savings we’ve already banked within just one specific area of our operations, you start to get an idea of how intelligent automation can drive transformation on a huge scale within the NHS.”

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