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The deadline to modernise approaches: Where are you?

Back in February 2019, Health Secretary Matt Hancock declared war on an outdated piece of hospital technology. A legacy hold-on long in need of updating: the pager.

By the end of 2021, the pager is expected to be gone from our health service and replaced with modern, secure alternatives. These could be mobile phones, apps or specialised, hands-free devices. So long as they securely delivered more accurate two-way communications between staff, ideally at a reduced cost, they were on the table in eyes of the Health Secretary.

A pilot project ran in 2017 at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust showed the shift from pager technology to more modern solutions saved staff significant time per shift – 21 minutes on average for nurses. A crucial 48 minutes per shift for junior doctors.

Clearly, there was evidence for the NHS to seek to replace its more than 130,000 pagers. A network which cost the health service around £6.6m annually and was so extensive that more than one in every 10 pagers in use around the world was in the NHS.

But, in a current climate dominated by monumental challenges such as coronavirus, why is all this relevant currently?

When Matt Hancock introduced his plans to phase out the pager back in early 2019, he also marked another key date: the end of September 2020.

That was to be the time by which all hospitals were expected to have plans and infrastructure in place to ensure the phasing out of pagers would be possible by the 2021 target. There may have been new room found to flex as priorities this year have been shifted, but plans are being formulated and acted upon.

The end of the pager is no longer a desired goal for the NHS. It’s an inevitability: it’s just a question of whether they can do so in the intended timeframe.

Tech-orientated and keen to drive a modern agenda, the Health Secretary has long seen the modernisation of pager technology as the next step in achieving a fully digitised NHS – a crucial part of the NHS’ tech vision and the NHS Long Term Plan.

Its why National Health Executive has taken the time to investigate among it’s wide-reaching audience where trusts and NHS organisations are at in their pager replacement journeys. We’re all heading in the same direction, so we want to learn where in that process people are at and impart potential best practice and wisdom to people at every step of the journey.

A modern, digitally-enabled NHS is on the horizon and the pager remains as one of number of legacy technologies which must be phased out to fully realise its potential.

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NHE March/April 2024

NHE March/April 2024

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- Steve Gulati, University of Birmingham 

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