Brits call for tech revolution to tackle NHS wait times

  • The UK public wants technology to play a bigger role in the NHS, with two thirds (64%) believing it’s a worthwhile investment.
  • New research from BT shows nine in 10 (91%) patients are calling for shorter wait times and speedier diagnosis as their top priority, with most welcoming the use of technology to help.
  • BT today announces new AI and digital diagnosis services for healthcare – to help speed up diagnosis and unlock the benefits of AI for more hospitals.

New research into public opinion of digital health in the UK shows that the majority of adults want to see the NHS invest more in technology – as speeding up diagnosis and treatment top the list of patient priorities1.

The research was commissioned by BT, which recently marked 75 years of collaboration with the NHS and is committed to helping support the next phase of its digital transformation.  It reveals that three in five (61%) patients are frustrated with the time it takes to contact a medical professional, and a similar number (59%) with delays in arranging an appointment. Data from NHS England indicates that 7.6 million people in England are waiting for hospital treatment, including 1.6 million waiting for diagnostic tests or scans, the highest figure since modern records began in 2007.2

One area that promises to cut waiting lists is the use of digital technology to enable faster diagnosis and treatment and allow doctors to clear the patient backlog, quicker. BT’s research suggests the public are ready to embrace innovation if it will help, with two thirds (64%) believing technology is a worthwhile investment for the NHS.

The pandemic has radically changed the perception of digital healthcare in the UK, so much so that three quarters (75%) of UK adults would prefer a digital consultation or diagnosis – and one in five (19%) patients are now frustrated if they are asked to visit a GP or hospital for an appointment that could be done remotely.

Saving time is the most popular draw for digital appointments, with just under half (48%) of those asked saying they would choose digital over face-to-face if it meant they could speak to a medical professional quicker. Two fifths (38%) say they’d prefer if the money that would have been used for an in-person appointment was reinvested elsewhere. A third (32%) would welcome digital appointments if it meant they could be seen outside of traditional working hours, while more than a quarter (27%) like the idea of not having to leave the house.

Improving speed of diagnosis and treatment are the public’s top NHS priorities, with nine in 10 (91%) patients believing them to be the most important; making them as high a priority as the NHS remaining free at the point of entry (87%). This need is one of the key drivers pushing patients to the private sector, with almost two in five (38%) saying they’d look outside the NHS if it meant faster treatment.

Similarly, 58% agree that leveraging data and technology can enhance the NHS's effectiveness in preventing illnesses and identifying risk factors earlier in patients' lives, showing significant support towards using tech to help foster a healthier nation.

More than a third (37%) of the UK public would support the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the NHS. A third (33%) of the population picked video and telephone consultations as one of the top three health technologies they’d like to see the NHS prioritise, alongside one in five (18%) that would like digital diagnosis rolled out widely. These practical choices are a much higher priority for the public than robotics (9%) or Virtual Reality (5%).

Discussing the research, Professor Sultan Mahmud, BT’s Director of Healthcare, said: “The NHS is critically important to all of us, with a 75-year-strong track record of embracing new technology. However, as its challenges mount, we need to do more to make sure it’s equipped to keep up with patient demand. It’s clear from the research that the public recognises the link between technology and health. While technology alone can’t build more hospitals or train doctors and nurses, it can make the day-to-day experience of healthcare better for everyone – speeding up diagnosis and treatment, improving the experience of patients, freeing up time for frontline workers and helping budgets go further.”

BT is today announcing it is working in partnership with specialist technology companies deepc and Axon Diagnostics to boost its digital health programme for the NHS and help tackle wait times. The collaborations promise to help free up doctors’ time using AI and unlock the benefits of faster diagnosis for more patients and clinicians in a safe and responsible way. These new services bolster BT’s existing healthcare solutions, which include Virtual Ward & Care programmes to support the NHS with tech to help manage patient care.

  • AXON Diagnostics – provides a digital platform that enables faster diagnosis and image sharing. Using a secure streaming service, it allows specialists across the world to access and report live diagnostic information, e.g. scans, safely in seconds. This helps increase capacity across health services by connecting more clinicians and consultants across different locations. It can also reduce reliance on outsourcing.
  • deepc is a radiology AI platform that can help medical professionals access the clinical value of multiple AI tools quickly and safely via an AI marketplace. It integrates into any hospital environment, streamlining the curation and onboarding effort, offering access to over 50 third-party best-in-breed AI solutions to enable adoption at scale. deepc can onboard AI tech into NHS hospitals that might otherwise typically be overlooked due to their geographic location. AI allows doctors to see more patients and address the existing backlog. The adoption of AI in radiology and pathology is increasing, helping to address the current skills shortage.

Professor Sultan Mahmud continues: “Offering faster diagnosis and helping reduce waiting times, our new digital diagnostics and AI services are designed to help ease some of the pressures facing doctors and nurses today. It’s part of our commitment to stand alongside the NHS, working with clinicians to help more UK Trusts reap the benefits of the latest technology – helping them do more with digital, without increasing their already heavy workload.”

Dr Paul Bhogal, Consultant Interventional Neuroradiologist and member of BT’s Clinical Advisory Board, added: “When we talk about the need to bring new technology to the NHS, we’re not talking about replacing doctors and nurses. We’re talking about taking tools that are already a part of everyday life elsewhere, and using them to make things quicker and easier for patients. BT’s new digital diagnostics and AI partnerships will not only help connect NHS clinicians with patients faster and more efficiently, but they can also help with knowledge sharing, to plug some of the gaps where healthcare services need it most.”

To find out more about BT’s collaboration with deepc and AXON Diagnostics, or its work with the NHS to build smarter, safer and more efficient healthcare for everyone, please visit here.

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