The NHS could save almost a tenth of its annual budget by embracing automation, according to a report released today.
According to the findings from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), the health service could save £12.5 billion a year and give staff the extra time that they need to care for patients.
The NHS could save an additional £6 billion by investing in automation in social care, where as many as a third of tasks could be simplified by new technology.
Former Labour and Conservative health ministers Lord Darzi and Lord Prior led the report, which calls for a specific fund of as much as £50 billion to be created to ensure investment in such technologies.
The release of the report and associated research (due out on the 19th) follows calls from Jeremy Hunt, the Health and Social Care Secretary, for a cash injection to focus on technological transformation inside the NHS.
AI and other automated systems could be used to diagnose patients' conditions and in bedside care, such as assisting with meals and transportation. They could also have a use in admin functions like communicating medical notes, booking appointments and processing prescriptions.
Robots could also be used in surgery, said Lord Darzi - a former surgeon, as well as health minister. He added:
"In the 21st century NHS, it might not be the sound of a bedpan dropping that is heard in Whitehall, but that of a robot picking it up. The NHS turns 70 this year but we must turn our sights to the future. We should not accept an analogue NHS in a digital decade."
Concerns about job losses from AI adoption are not as widespread in healthcare as they are in other industries. Instead, the hope is that such systems will complement existing human skills.
Commenting on the report Mark Bridger, VP at OpenText, said:
"Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services. While sci-fi films can distort the impact of AI technology, it's time to stop viewing AI as an existential threat to our livelihoods and our health. AI will transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation but it cannot replace people.
"The true value of AI will be found in it working alongside humans to ease the pressure across the healthcare system as well as making our lives easier. By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, healthcare organisations can gain access to real-time information and sophisticated insights - empowering them to improve decision-making and deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of UK citizens."
However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the possibilities of technology. Esther Rantzen, founder of the charity Silverline, which tries to reduce loneliness and isolation, told The Telegraph: "All this remote care that you can do where you can track the little old person wandering from the kettle to the fridge so you know that they're still up and about, I suppose that's OK as a sort of failsafe, but nothing replaces company."
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