The UK NHS long term 10-year plan: Why will technology be key in delivering this?

Wayne Miller of Zebra Technologies

In order to future proof the National Health Service (NHS), the UK Health Secretary recently announced a Long Term Plan to ensure the service continues seamlessly and smoothly for years to come. As Wayne Miller, Healthcare director EMEA at Zebra Technologies reports, National experts, patient groups and frontline staff all input into the planning of this and have laid out how the government will spend the £20 billion (€22.8 billion) funding that Theresa May promised in 2018 over the next 10 years.

While the smaller details are still being planned out, the main way in which the NHS is forecast to invest in key departments and community projects will be through technology which has been cast as the pinnacle of the healthcare revolution. Tech in the NHS however, is not a completely new thing, and it is worth noting the ways technology is already being incorporated in the operations and how it is currently helping revolutionise the service across Britain.

Various NHS practices across the UK have already invested in the digitisation of old-fashioned systems, to shift from lengthy paper-based data materials and paper-based records to digital systems aimed to boost efficiency, reduce repetitive administrative tasks, increase safety and the time staff have to spend with patients.

Championing patient safety in the NHS

Patient safety is key to the NHS and therefore, all investments have to ensure they continue carrying out this legacy. When assessing its own safety strategy Leeds Teaching Hospital asked Zebra Technologies how technology could help refine its current methods.

Zebra started by installing digital printers and barcoded wristbands as part of the Scan4Safety initiative that allow the Hospital to digitally track patients through their hospital journey with a patient identification system. This is much more reliable and it is also safer, as it has the ability to precisely update all medical records digitally.

Early forecasts predict that it has the potential to save lives and up to £1 billion (€1.14 million) for the NHS over seven years.

Patient care as a priority

An extremely frequent complaint that physicians make is that they spend too much time on administration; time they would much rather spend with patients. This objective was one broached by Lancashire NHS Hospital Trust who wanted to make sure its staff had more time for patient care.

The Trust employed Zebra to deploy hand-held mobile computers to improve medical consumable inventory management and drive efficiencies in supply chain and asset management. It comes in the form of wristbands patients wear which get scanned every time consumables or implants are administered, reducing human error, updating all records automatically and improving processing speed.

This solution saw the Trust save £5 million (€5.7 million) of balance sheet adjustments and gave physicians more time with patients.

Making sure inventory and stock control is better managed

When the Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust decided to update its inventory management system, it introduced Zebra handheld scanners in order to record usage, track and trace products and automatically replenish inventory.

This integration led to a large reduction in the amount of time physicians had to spend manually updating stock levels and ended up producing an 84% decrease in the time they spent ordering stock and replenishment for head and neck surgery (maxillofacial).

The system also helped the Trust eliminate stock obsolescence, minimise wastage, reduce the level of storage space used, improve stock control and improve patient safety. In order for the NHS to succeed in its Long Term Plan, it is vital to work alongside tech experts and introduce the latest advancements into the healthcare service.

There is no doubt of the paramount importance of technology in the future of the healthcare industry. Technological innovations have helped save countless lives since its introduction in the industry and further tech advancements adopted by the NHS will lead to an even higher number of lives saved.

NHS Trusts will be able to reduce administration and improve patient care and safety with the implementation of new systems, which will lead to the creation of an integrated healthcare network nationwide. Only then would the NHS have succeeded in its 10-year plan.

The author is Wayne Miller, Healthcare director EMEA at Zebra Technologies

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