“We have the technology – what we need now is a coordinated approach,” argues Professor Sultan Mahmud, BT’s Director of Healthcare

There is little denying that the NHS is in crisis. From the struggle to book GP appointments to the striking of junior doctors over pay, the UK’s healthcare system is increasingly being stretched to breaking point by years of chronic underfunding and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. This year saw hospital waiting lists reached an all-time high, with around 7.7 million people waiting for treatment in August, almost double the pre-pandemic number of 4.43 million.

Solving the systemic challenges facing the NHS is a herculean task, but a new study from BT suggests NHS staff themselves believe that new technologies could play a major role in improving the healthcare system’s performance.

The research found that 74% of NHS staff surveyed saw future investments in tech as a priority. Over four in five (81%) of NHS staff believe further investments in digital diagnostic tools would cut NHS wait times, 83% said doing so would improve patient outcomes, and 76% said they would reduce the NHS’s costs.

The respondents were equally as positive about virtual ward technology, similarly suggesting that greater investment in this area would cut wait times, improve patient outcomes, and reduce costs.

“At BT we have spent the last few months listening to thousands of people inside and outside the NHS, and the message is clear: ‘embrace digital tech and cut wait times’. Those on the frontline and behind the scenes have told us that investing in digitally-enabled services like diagnostics, care closer to home, and the careful use of AI in areas like diagnostics and NHS back office functions could help improve productivity,” said Professor Sultan Mahmud, BT’s Director of Healthcare.

“We have the technology – what we need now is a co-ordinated approach. Government, citizens, NHS leaders and tech providers must work together to focus on the investment in infrastructure and delivery mechanisms that can help the challenged workforce. This is about realising the digital dividend of improved patient experience and reduced administrative burden for our clinicians.”

It should come as little surprise to note that BT is already very active in the field of digital health and telemedicine. The operator notes that it is already working with the likes of deepc and AXON Diagnostics to develop new health-related digital services, as well as with the NHS itself via the Vanguard programme and its Clinical Advisory Board.

The operator is also piloting its ‘Patient Concierge’ tool alongside messaging specialist Soprano, which aims to leverage AI technology to streamline communication with patients and increase the efficiency of the NHS appointment system. The tool is reportedly already being showcased to customers.

Exactly when all of this cutting-edge technology will effectively be incorporated across the NHS remains to be seen. Indeed, there are many barriers to nationwide tech adoption within the NHS, from differing levels of digital skills to incorporating the new solutions with varied legacy systems. The NHS’s labyrinthine organisational structure means that widespread change, especially when it comes to technology, often happens at a glacial pace.

We often talk about the digital divide in terms of individuals lacking access to technology, connectivity, or digital skills, but all these elements are equally as vital for any major organisation. Without rapid digital evolution at scale, there is a very real chance that the NHS – or at least certain parts of it  – could fall badly behind the rest of the UK’s major industries. As the UK’s largest employer, entrusted with ensuring the health and wellbeing of all of its citizens, this could literally be a matter of life and death for some patients.

In many ways, this is why it is all more the more important that companies like BT continue to take the lead in this area, since they not only have the technical knowhow but also the scale to deliver these new services on a nationwide basis.

“The challenges facing the NHS are considerable, in some cases chronic, and nobody is under the illusion that the solutions will be simple, but clearly technological innovation is a big part of how we are going to succeed,” said Dr Paul Bhogal, Consultant Interventional Neuroradiologist and member of BT’s Clinical Advisory Board. “We live in exciting times, especially in the world of diagnostics, and organisations like BT are playing an important role in bringing innovative technology to life in NHS trusts. If we want to improve access to healthcare in the UK, while improving patient outcomes, we must find technology that works, and put it in the hands of those that can put it to work.”

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