Technology to help treat ‘30% more elective care patients’

Surgical hubs, artificial intelligence, and ‘innovative ways of working’ will allow the NHS to treat around 30 per cent more elective care patients by 2023 to 2024 according to the Government.

The Government is set to spend part of its new £36bn health and social care fund on new technology to reduce waiting lists.

The move forms part of an NHS push to streamline treatments and deliver an extra nine million checks, scans, and operations for patients.

The news comes as over 5.5 million people in England are on waiting lists for treatment or non-urgent surgery, and the Government predicts this number could reach 13 million by the end of 2021.

The NHS has been trialling a range of new ways of working in 12 areas according to the Government, backed by £160 million of funding, to accelerate the recovery of services from the pandemic.

The Government said this includes setting up pop-up clinics so patients can be treated quickly, in person, and discharged closer to home, as well as virtual wards and home assessments to allow patients to receive medical support from the comfort of their home, freeing up beds in hospitals.

GP surgeries are using artificial intelligence to help prioritise patients most in need according to the Government and identify the right level of care and support needed for patients on waiting lists.

The Government gave the following examples of technology being used to improve patient care:

• Moorfields Eye Hospital successfully used surgical hubs to reduce the time cataract patients spend in hospital to around 90 minutes and carried out 725 operations in one week, while Nottingham NHS Trust launched ‘Super Saturdays’ where NHS staff perform that same procedure all day to reduce changeover times for equipment and staff

• Surgical robots are being used in Milton Keynes hospital to deliver more complex surgery with faster recovery times for patients, less time in hospital and reduced risk of infection. It was the first hospital in Europe to use the Versius Surgical Robotic System for major gynaecological surgery, including complex cancer cases

• A project launched in Coventry supports the West Midlands Ambulance Service for frail patients and has led to a 20 per cent drop in the number of people over 80 being admitted to the hospital when they could have been better cared for elsewhere

• Doncaster Bassetlaw Hospitals Trust is operating a cardio drive-through service as part of the ‘Hospital at Home’ programme. Patients arrive at Doncaster Royal Infirmary or Montagu Hospital by car and receive an ECG heart monitor device from a member of staff. The new drive-through service means more heart checks can be carried out each day, with around 100 conducted each week, freeing up space in hospital for essential tests which must be carried out face-to-face

The number of health-related teleconsultations - video sessions where patients can interact with healthcare providers remotely - is set to reach 765 million worldwide by 2025 according to Juniper Research.

“This global pandemic has presented enormous challenges for the NHS and led to a growing backlog – we cannot go on with business as usual,” said health and social care secretary Sajid Javid. “We are going to harness the latest technology and innovative new ways of working such as surgical hubs to deliver the millions more appointments, treatments, and surgeries that are needed over the coming months and years to tackle waiting lists.”

“Although the pandemic is still with us and we will have to live with the impact of Covid for some time, the NHS has already made effective use of additional resources to recover services – from adopting the latest technologies to more evening and weekend working, NHS staff are going to great lengths to increase the number of operations carried out,” said NHS England medical director Professor Steve Powis. “The further funding announced this week will support staff to deliver millions more vital checks, tests, and operations, so if you have a health concern, please do come forward to receive the care and treatment you may need.”

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