UK’s NHS given access to automation ‘marketplace’

In automating GP referrals, one Trust saved 500 hours of staff time and £220K.
1 October 2019

The NHS faces a constant battle for staff and resources. Source: Shutterstock

Healthcare systems around the world are overburdened. That means the sector is in a constant quest to exploit new advances in technology to alleviate some of that strain— it’s not an exaggeration to say that investments here have life-saving potential.

With aims to “free up staff time to deliver improved healthcare”, a leading workplace automation company in the UK is offering up its technology to the country’s National Health Service (NHS) at no cost. The aim is to help NHS Trusts scale automation strategies quickly and securely, with a positive impact on both patient care and staff time and capacity.

Thoughtonomy, an automation platform built on AI, RPA and cloud technology, is launching a shared marketplace for the entire NHS, providing free access to existing automations which have already been developed and are being deployed with other NHS Trusts.

The driving force behind the marketplace is Darren Atkins, Chief Technology Officer (AI & Automation) at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), who recognized that the groundbreaking work being carried out at ESNEFT and other innovation-driven trusts could carry similar advantages for the wider health service. 

The automations, relating to both front and back-office processes, can be used by other NHS Trusts either in whole or part to speed up the deployment process without the need to start designing and building from scratch. 

It means that Trusts can quickly start reaping the benefits of digital labor alongside their existing workforce. 

The first automation tools made available can “dramatically” reduce the time it takes medical secretaries to process GP referrals, removing the need to process paperwork and upload data between different IT systems. 

With this approach alone, ESNEFT claimed to have released more than 500 hours of medical secretaries’ time within three months of implementing the automation and saved £220,000 (US$270,000) in associated direct costs.

“The release of Thoughtonomy’s NHS marketplace realizes my ambition of collaborating with healthcare partners across the UK,” said Atkins.  

“By sharing our learning and jointly working on automations to satisfy a common goal, we are able to release time for our clinical and corporate staff faster, more efficiently and at a reduced cost. 

“All the processes and objects freely shared in the platform belong to the NHS and may only be used by healthcare organizations for no commercial gain,” he added. 

All NHS Trusts can now take advantage of the ground made by ESNEFT and other innovative trusts in intelligent automation. Automating time-intensive, repetitive tasks means the healthcare service can unburden its staff from routine, time-consuming administrative tasks, allowing them to focus on delivering high-quality patient care instead.  

Aside from the GP referrals process, other forthcoming applications include patient reminders and the ability to receive and action cancellations automatically by text; automatic invoicing; and the processing of referrals and auto-creation of diagnostic tests relating to Cardio-Respiratory care. 

The hope is that these automation tools can be dropped into place and utilized quickly and efficiently. Thoughtonomy said they are already customized to access common NHS systems, including System C Medway, Kainos Evolve, Electronic Referral System ERS, Lorenzo and ESR, SystmOne and EMIS Web.

“The shared marketplace is a great example of how NHS Trusts can work together to drive efficiencies, protect and support front-line staff and improve patient care through Intelligent Automation,” said UK Healthcare Leader at Thoughtonomy, Patrick Shepherd. 

“We hope that this becomes the foundation for allowing highly engaged Trusts to share, collaborate and inspire each other,” he added.

“It is in everyone’s interests to see them realize the enormous benefits that Intelligent Automation can deliver, in particular addressing and overcoming many of the major budgetary and skills-related challenges facing the NHS today.”