Digital healthcare

Innovation and new technology to help reduce NHS waiting lists

Following on from the government’s announcement regarding the health and social care reform, surgical hubs, new technology and innovative ways of working are expected to be utilised to help tackle waiting lists and treat around 30% more elective care patients by 2023 to 2024.

This week’s announcement regarding how the NHS backlog will be dealt with is hoped to see the health service deliver an extra 9 million checks, scans, and operations for patients across the country.

As well as surgical hubs, virtual wards and artificial intelligence are thought to play a key role in tackling the backlog and helping put the NHS on a sustainable footing

New treatments and diagnostic and streamlined surgical methods are believed to result in more patients being seen to quickly and safely.

"NHS staff are going to great lengths to increase the number of operations carried out."

The new UK-wide £36bn investment over the next three years hopes to support the NHS and social care systems in England in the long term, ensuring patients have ongoing access to the best possible care.

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “This global pandemic has presented enormous challenges for the NHS and led to a growing backlog – we cannot go on with business as usual.

“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.

Surgical hubs are already being piloted in a number of locations, including London, and are helping fast-track the number of planned operations, including cataract removal, hysterectomies and hip and knee replacements.

The surgical hubs are located on existing hospital sites and bring together the skills and resources under one roof, while limiting the infectious risk of Covid, with more planned to expand across the country in the coming year.

The NHS has been trialling a range of new ways of working in 12 areas, backed by £160m, to accelerate the recovery of services.

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 in their own home, freeing up beds in hospitals.

Professor Steve Powis, NHS England’s Medical Director, said: “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.

“The further funding announced this week will support staff to deliver millions more vital checks, tests and operations.”

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

Using the latest technology and locally led innovation is hoped to increase efficiencies and activity levels, to tackle rising backlogs.

Lab technology concept

Key examples include:

  • Moorfields Eye Hospital has 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 from frail patients and has led to a 20% drop in the number of people over 80 being admitted to 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
Science lab

The NHS will receive an extra £5.4bn over the next 6 months to support its response to Covid-19, including an extra £1bn to help tackle the Covid-19 backlog, £2.8 billion to cover related costs such as enhanced infection control measures to keep staff and patients safe from the virus, and £478m to continue the hospital discharge programme, freeing up beds.

The additional £5.4bn brings the government’s total investment to health services for Covid-19 so far this year to over £34bn, with £2bn in total for the NHS to tackle the elective backlog.

It is also additional to the long-term settlement for the NHS, which is enshrined in law and will see NHS funding increase by £33.9 billion by 2023 to 2024 as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

The health service will come forward with a delivery plan for tackling the backlog to give people confidence that the money being invested is going to deliver results.

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NHE May/June 2024

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