The NHS is increasingly turning to artificial intelligence-driven robotics to free up front-line staff to care for patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Blue Prism cloud platform uses robotic process automation (RPA) software and is staffed by a so-called "digital workforce", designed to automate complex, end-to-end operational activities.
For the NHS, it allows the organisation to carry out an array of administrative tasks, from managing beds in wards and decontamination scheduling, to signing up new staff quickly to help tackle the crisis and sharing respiratory data across agencies.
The platform is already being used by more than 50 NHS trusts, with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, North East London Commissioning Support Unit, Great Western Hospitals and Leeds Teaching Hospitals signing up in recent weeks.
The trusts join a community of healthcare organisations who are sharing automations using a dedicated Blue Prism Cloud NHS Digital Exchange that allows NHS teams to further accelerate the deployment of new automations.
A library of pre-built automation assets that cover more than 40 processes tackling enhanced access to services, and patient communication from admissions through to outpatient support are being made available. This means that there is no need for each trust to start designing and building automations from scratch.
Aneurin Bevan Health Board assistant director of informatics Mike Ogonovsky said: "There are huge gains to be made in terms of incorporating intelligent automation into healthcare processes. For us the imperative is patient safety and experience.
"The manual transfer of data between the systems used to manage the patient journey through primary care, ambulance service, secondary care and back into community care brings with it the risk of error and delay.
"It also takes valuable time out of the day for highly-trained staff who should be focused on caring for patients. We see an opportunity to overcome this challenge using Blue Prism Cloud’s Digital Workforce and are taking the first steps to re-shape our processes so that we can continue to move the bar for quality of patient care ever higher."
University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay head of digital services Marc Hadwin added: "Employing ’digital workers’ to help patients book, prepare for and follow up appointments can ensure everyone receives a wealth of tailored communications, confirming each step of their treatment.
"With 600,000 hospital appointments booked a year, there is no way our staff could proactively manage that level of personalised communication manually. For medical staff too, we see countless opportunities for removing the daily burden of updating patient record systems so that they can dedicate their time to providing front-line patient care."