NHS turns to machines to help clear nightmare waiting lists

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Experts say automation could greatly assist NHS efforts to tackle record backlogs, with current lists literate with errors and duplication.

Walton Center NHS Foundation Trust, a leading neurology centre, is developing a bot that will interact with patients referred to their specialists, fast-tracking those who are deemed most urgent.

Dennis Reed, from Silver Voices, a campaign group for the elderly, said: “I really do worry about the risk of errors, and the fact that automated responses will not be able to deal with the subtleties of healthcare.

“I think for a lot of older people, getting these kinds of automated calls can be confusing and very frightening. Many will fear it is a scam and be at a loss to what to do about it.”

Trusts piloting the schemes have said those who do not pick up the calls would not be penalized and would be contacted by a member of staff.

The chief executive of one leading automation company said bots will be increasingly used to clear Covid backlogs, speed up referrals and improve patient care,

Mihir Shukla, chief executive of Automation Anywhere, said the NHS is already using 3,000 of its bots to handle referrals and pay. He said health chiefs are now examining plans to teach up to 100,000 NHS workers how to code and create bots themselves.

“They are scaling this to the next level,” Mr Shukla told the Telegraph. “There are about 100 different areas in which the NHS is looking to do this.”

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, has urged trusts to modernize their practices to bring down waiting times, calling for a “bold and radical approach”.

On Tuesday Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told MPs that December was the “worst ever” in A&Ewith waits of more than 24 hours in most departments.

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