Robots and artificial intelligence could save NHS £12.5bn a year

The NHS could shave off a tenth of its budget by assigning nearly a third to robots and artificial intelligence systems, a new report by surgeon and former health minister Lord Darzi, has claimed. The report suggests the NHS could achieve cost savings of £12.5bn a year, by fully automating repetitive and administrative tasks, such as communicating medical notes, booking appointments and processing prescriptions.

It suggests that “home help care robots” designed to help people move around the home, help with household maintenance and even wash, dress and feed themselves, could reduce the human workload by 30%.

The report claims that artificial intelligence and automation will serve to complement human workers and free up more time for direct patient care, rather than resulting in mass unemployment. It also points out that technology will also help to fill a void left by a shortage of frontline staff in health and social care.

The report claims that robots and artificial intelligence systems could take on approximately:

  • 31% of the workload currently faced by GPs,
  • 23% of that of hospital doctors,
  • 29% of that of nurses.

Meanwhile, tapping the full potential of machine learning and artificial intelligence systems in diagnostics could enhance the speed and accuracy of diagnoses, particularly for conditions such as pneumonia, eye diseases, heart conditions and different types of cancer, the report claims. Biosensors will also allow the remote monitoring and alerting responses to clinical observations, such as sepsis.

While the report makes no reference to the potential cost or timeline for achieving such a high level of sophistication, it acknowledges many barriers facing to this innovation including “a lack of investment in the technological infrastructure; a need to redesign care pathways around automated solutions; and to retrain impacted staff to perform new roles.”

However, the report stresses that “the opportunity is too great to ignore”, and new funding for health and social care should include a sizable budget for this innovation pathway.

The report concludes: “Automation has the potential to transform the social care sector by connecting support at home, in residential care, and in hospitals, thereby smoothing the transitions between these settings.

“The future is full of possibilities where robots empower people in old age, enabling better, longer, and more fulfilling lives. Wider application of social digital technology at all ages will enable more people to remain supported and connected to friends and family.”

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