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Nearly half of practice admin can be ‘fully automated’, says workforce plan

by Anna Colivicchi
3 July 2023

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Nearly half of GP practice admin work could be ‘fully automated’ using new technology, the NHS workforce plan has said.

GP practices will be encouraged to ‘take full advantage’ of technological innovations, such as speech recognition, to deal with administrative work and free up clinicians’ time.

The workforce plan published by NHS England and the Government last Friday said that ‘significant workforce benefit’ can be gained from the automation of administrative processes in the NHS, including through AI applications such as speech recognition.

Pointing to research, the plan suggested that 44% of all administrative work in general practice can be ‘mostly or fully automated’, and that ‘a number of hospitals and general practices’ have already begun to use speech recognition technology to record clinical documentation, allowing staff to focus on patients as well as minimising manual record keeping and improving the quality of data input.

Its citation led to a Health Foundation analysis citing the ‘Oxford automation study’. This said that ‘44% of all administrative work performed in general practice can be either mostly or completely automated, such as running payroll, sorting post, transcription work and printing letters’.

The document estimated one minute saved per patient consultation, which equates to approximately 5.7 million hours of GP consultation time, with ‘further savings possible should all functionalities be optimised’.

It added: ‘Wider benefits of using speech recognition include potential cost savings through bringing outsourced administrative activity, such as transcription, in-house, and reducing clinic letter turnaround times, contributing to improved patient experience.

‘From the developing evidence base, it is expected that AI can free up staff time and improve efficiency of services.’

The commissioner will convene ‘an expert group’ to work through in more detail where AI can best be used, and what steps need to be taken so that it supports NHS staff in the coming years.

According to the plan, time spent on administrative processes can also be ‘significantly reduced’ by using robotic process automation (RPA) to automate back-office tasks in the NHS.

The document said: ‘RPA increases operational capacity and speed and improves safety; it is available 24/7 and can undertake tasks 4–10 times faster with fewer errors. Most organisations report 20–30% cost reduction and 30–50% return on investment on RPA projects.

‘All 42 ICSs now use RPA, including 38% of community or mental health trusts and 61% of acute trusts, but there are opportunities for further uptake.’

It estimated that in the 12 months to March this year, 1.9 million people used a blood pressure monitor at home, submitting readings to their GP, supporting self-management and saving GP time and that work is underway to expand NHS @home pathways, including developing and testing new approaches for managing major conditions such as cardiac and respiratory disease.

The plan also highlighted the Federated Data Platform (FDP) to ‘better connect the NHS’ which NHS England is controversially procuring from US company Palantir this year.

The FDP will connect existing systems, making it easier for staff to access the information they need in a safe and secure environment so that they are better able to co-ordinate, plan and deliver high-quality care, the plan said.

This story was first published by our sister publication Pulse.