Is technological efficiency the key to the NHS hitting net-zero?

technological efficiency
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Edward Belgeonne, founder, & CEO Bantham Technologies, discusses how innovative technology is key to hitting net-zero and creating more time to care in the NHS

In a week where NHS capacity has once again been in the spotlight, how the health sector can best manage patient care in the long-term remains a major focus.  

Reverting to type is not an option

While the UK may be seeing light at the end of a long dark tunnel with a best-in-class vaccination programme well underway, the onset of Spring with better weather for outside activities and the reduction in impact of other Winter bugs, reverting to type post-pandemic cannot – must not – be the option. Indeed how the health sector ‘builds back better’ from the last 12 months is going to be a fascinating narrative in the coming months and years.

But in the aftermath of COVID, this will not be easy. Reports have shown that the number of people waiting more than a year for an operation has reached a record high amid rising admissions of coronavirus patients. NHS England data published last month showed 4.46 million people were waiting for routine ops like joint replacements or cataract surgery in England by December. Under the NHS constitution, everyone needing non-urgent treatment should get it within 18 weeks. This has posed two challenges – clearing the existing and growing backlog and instigating better systems and processes in doing so to prevent the same problem repeating in the future. Of course, this is all set in the backdrop of the NHS target to become the world’s first carbon-neutral health service. 

Work done, but more to do

Thankfully, the NHS has proven itself to be an incredible innovator with Trusts on the Digital Exemplars list leading the way. Indeed, just over a year ago the UK health secretary Matt Hancock re-affirmed that the appropriate use of technology will be “critical” for the NHS’s future. We’ve seen more collaboration and adoption of new tools and technologies over the last couple of years than ever before and while the NHS has made significant progress, there’s plenty of work to do. This is because, as the largest employer in Britain the NHS is responsible for around 4% of the nation’s carbon emissions – similar in scale to the airline industry.

Digitisation of data and the use of e-forms will play an important role in the fight against climate change through the reduced use of paper and significant reductions in travel. Aside from the micro benefits of reductions in waste and resources, environmental costs will increasingly be reflected in the financial price paid by the NHS for energy, drugs, food and other services. The reduction of waste will be a key success metric for whether the NHS can, or will, hit its target, especially for an organisation not renowned for efficiencies. It will push reducing waste and maximising value for patients right to the top of the agenda in every corner of the organisation. 

Case study: Royal Wolverhampton

The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust (RWT), one of the leading NHS Trusts in the UK, was able to use innovative mobile technology to empower its Community team to provide patient-centric care within their own home whilst helping to minimise the carbon footprint of the Trust.

The Trust introduced an integrated Patient Information Database (PID) to identify the application of in-the-field operational forms. This solution seamlessly integrated with its existing patient record system and automatically pre-populated patient information into live e-Form documents. The project was deployed across Windows and iOS tablets and was able to support digital data capture on any Windows device, including tablets, laptops, and desktop PCs for broader use throughout the Trust’s mobile and in-hospital teams. Previously, the process of completing forms was almost entirely manual with each and every form needing to be completed using a blank paper form. 

The PID function allows for a clinician to search for a patient name either by First Name, Surname, DOB, NHS Number and or Hospital Number. Once a successful match has been returned, the clinician can choose the patient and select the desired e-Form that is required. The e-Form is presented with the patient demographics automatically embedded so that the clinician does not have to repeat or enter data that already exists. This also provides an improvement in the validity and accuracy of data input, reducing exceptions, guaranteeing successful first-time processing of records and creating more time to spend on patient care in the process.

By processing on average 3,000 e-forms per month, (typically equating to 100 remote workers), RWT expects to use 165,600 fewer sheets of A4, reduce its annual travel by nearly 500,000 miles and lower carbon emissions by over 180 tonnes of CO2 over a twelve-month period. The digitisation of data has also had a demonstrable impact on departmental and organisational budgets. Using real-world data derived from existing customers, 100 users would save 11,000+ working hours in travel and administration, with annual cost savings estimated at £200,000+.

Time to act today

There are plenty of opportunities for carbon reduction to go hand-in-hand with efforts to improve the health of the population and increase the efficiency of health services, but seizing these opportunities will mean taking action sooner rather than later.

In a time of rising budget deficits and mounting pressures, climate change might seem to be a distant priority for the NHS. But it is one that will need to be tackled if access to comprehensive health care is to be sustainable in the future: the pain will be greater if we leave it till later. But the answer lies under our fingertips and in the palm of our hands in the form of laptops, mobile phones, tablets and wearable devices.


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