The NHS would save up to £12.5bn a year if executives invested in a comprehensive programme of automation, researchers at the Institute of Public Policy Reform have predicted.
The savings in frontline time amount to 10 per cent of the health service’s annual costs, the researchers forecasted, with a quarter of hospital doctors’ time being freed up.
Led by the surgeon and former health minister Lord Darzi, the report claims that rather than replacing human jobs, automation will complement the skills of doctors and nurses by carrying out administrative tasks.
Robots and AI systems could also play a part in assessing, treating and supporting patients, freeing up clinicians to spend more time on direct care.
“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,” said Lord Darzi. “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.”
Last month, Theresa May said that AI could transform patient care in the NHS, with algorithms accelerating the diagnosis of diseases including cancer.
“The development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings opens up a whole new field of medical research,” she said.
While the prime minister’s pledge welcomed by many in the tech sector, some fear the government plans to give NHS data to private firms.
Writing for NS Tech, the Labour MP Darren Jones warned: “When patient data in the NHS is handed over to commercial companies, it should be made very clear that we expect to share in any profits made off the back of using an NHS data-derived algorithm anywhere in the world.”