The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital care hit
six million in January for the first time – the highest since records began. With NHS waiting lists rising by around 100,000 each month, it is time for us to take a look at ways to tackle this backlog of care. In November 2021, the Chancellor pledged a funding package of £6 billion to address the issue. It has been a common understanding that with sustained efforts and funding, such backlogs can be drastically reduced. However, what is different now, is the range of technology that is available to augment this effort. The Government through ensuring the roll out of such technologies in a structured way can streamline processes and help patients and staff save time within NHS.
Over the last two years, under conditions of expediency, the NHS took a great digital leap forward. In doing so, it has put to bed a lot of lazy cliches about the pace at which it can innovate. But the critical question now is how this innovation can be sustained as we move away from the pandemic to address the backlog in care and provide a platform which can improve long-term patient outcomes and experience while supporting an inundated workforce.
The pandemic witnessed an acceleration in the scale and scope of collaboration between technology and healthcare providers, with the NHS working to deploy tools such as Microsoft 365 to as many as 1.2 million staff, to enable them to communicate and collaborate more effectively as well as to save costs. Patients have also embraced the changes as we see them actively seeking remote consultations, which allow clinicians to see more patients per hour with almost
80 per cent of people who used contact-free appointments reporting satisfaction with the service. However, the pandemic has also laid bare the stark inequalities that still exist in healthcare outcomes, highlighting the pressing need to tackle the various challenges faced by patients under NHS, as well as modernising outdated systems. Although technology is not a panacea, it can augment clinical practice, and open up a new world filled with possibility and efficiency.
The technologies that have the potential to transform NHS is not limited to patient care, administrative processes within provider, payer, and pharmaceutical organisations. There are several research studies which suggest that AI can perform as well as or better than humans at key healthcare tasks, such as diagnosing diseases. Today AI could help predict how an individual patient’s illness will progress and what treatment will be most successful to help them recover. It can also look at patient records to provide vital clues towards determining what chronic illnesses they may be susceptible to especially as they age. We are at a potential tipping point of transforming health care provision using Big Data.
Using data intelligently can save lives and usher in a new era of scientific discovery. It is critical to evolve existing data services and regulatory processes for the NHS to enable this approach for other diagnoses. By increasing the availability of healthcare data and combining it with the power of AI to draw insights from it means that science can move from testing hypotheses to generating them. Embedding transparent and new ways of working will be crucial to ensure trust in the system but the impact AI could have for millions of patients using the NHS could be huge.