Steps Towards Automation & Digital Innovation with NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan

The first-ever NHS long-term workforce plan, published earlier this year, promises a renewed commitment to patient safety and a long-awaited move towards digital solutions to deliver the highest standard of care.

The workforce plan has been in development for six years and marks the first time the government has tasked the NHS to deliver a comprehensive plan of action as it continues to recover from the after-effects of Covid-19. To combat the growing adversity, three key priorities will be introduced over the course of the next 15 years.

Staff will receive record levels of training and education, and we will also see the introduction of more apprenticeships, which can provide alternate routes into healthcare. This will provide more doctors and nurses while establishing new roles that will match the growing needs of patients. Work will be done to improve the workplace culture with more flexibility and support in an effort to retain staff. The most crucial reforms will come in the form of new technology which will aim to improve productivity.

In the plan, the NHS promises a commitment to digital and technical innovations which will greatly enhance its productivity ambitions. To achieve this, an expert group of professionals will be formed to identify advanced technology that can be used most effectively in the NHS. The digital strategies going forward will build on the findings of the Topol Review by Dr. Eric Topol, first published in 2019.

A key innovation will be the automation of administrative processes which will take the form of speech recognition. Analysis provided by the Health Foundation citing the ‘Oxford Automation Study’ found that 70% of a clinician’s time is spent on administrative tasks, 44% of which can be automated. A report from Pulse Magazine highlighted a survey conducted by the General Medical Council. Of the 4,000 doctors surveyed, 38% percent felt satisfied with their work, while more than half (55%) struggled to manage their workload.

In his review, Topol expressed the benefits of speech recognition and the role it would play in minimising manual record-keeping while improving the quality of data input. This will also allow staff to prioritise care for their patients. Topal estimated that the implementation of speech recognition would amount to one minute saved per patient consultation. This equates to 400,000 hours of emergency department consultation time.

Automation will also be applied to primary care. The time pharmacists and dispensers spend on supplying machines will be drastically reduced with the introduction of automated dispensing machines. NHS staff will also have access to a federated data platform which will allow them to easily access information in order to plan, coordinate, and deliver high-quality care.

These are just some of the plans being put into place to ease the burden on our strained NHS. A number of challenges have been exasperated in the aftermath of the pandemic. As of March 2023, vacancies throughout totalled 112,000.  Even more alarming is the grim estimate of a workforce gap of 260,000 – 360,000 by 2036/37.

Staff are also struggling to cope with the increasing demands required due to rising demographics and a greater population. The number of people aged over 85 is set to increase by 55% while the overall population of England rises to 4.4%.

The long-term plan is set to be refreshed every two years. If successful, staff shortfalls are expected to fall significantly by 2028 due to increased investment in education and training. The plan also points to continued investment in technology, infrastructure, and innovation as key factors in improving productivity and overcoming the impact of Covid-19.

In a blog post earlier this year, we discussed the Cumberlege Report and how its findings have highlighted the importance of data in preventing large-scale threats to patient safety. While the response to the report has been slow, the NHS is set to take its first steps into a digital future.

The benefits of digital innovation have been displayed firsthand with the Scan4Safety pilot scheme which was first rolled out across NHS trusts in England in 2016. The scheme uses GS1 barcoding standards, which you can learn more about here, and has highlighted the significant benefits to both staff and patients following the adoption of digital solutions.

Since its introduction, 140,000 hours of clinical time has been released to care and error rates were reduced by 76%, with 97% of staff agreeing that Scan4Safety was crucial in reducing errors. Momentous improvements were made to staff well-being, efficiency, and overall costs.

Our GS1 UK approved solution, StockAssist Healthcare offers a streamlined approach to managing inventory and enables organisations to manage product expiry dates and recalls effectively while managing data-compliance risk and point-of-care traceability. With in-depth stock reporting and accurate insights into key product data, StockAssist Healthcare promotes productivity and maximises the time of clinicians and nursing staff, helping to improve patient safety and increase fiscal savings.

Find out more about our solutions here, or get in touch to book a demo.


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