Surgeons have warned that the National Health Service (NHS) must fully embrace robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to navigate the current crisis and prepare for future challenges. The NHS is facing an all-time high in waiting lists for routine and complex surgeries due to a backlog exacerbated by the pandemic. Staffing shortages and strikes have further complicated the situation, making technology adoption essential for addressing the growing demand for healthcare services.
Current adoption of robotics and AI
Some NHS trusts have already taken significant strides in adopting advanced technologies. For example, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, with the UK’s largest robotic surgery program, successfully completed a week’s worth of robot-assisted radical prostatectomy procedures in a single day. This exemplifies the potential of robotic systems like Da Vinci bots, which act as extensions of surgeons’ hands, enabling complex procedures and transforming bed usage.
Addressing staff shortages
The NHS faces a critical staffing shortage, and simply generating more healthcare professionals is not a viable solution. By incorporating robotics, data, and AI, the NHS can respond to the challenges of limited access to care. For instance, adopting robotic systems has allowed some hospitals to perform three operations a day instead of one, significantly improving productivity and patient outcomes.
Novel applications of robotics in healthcare
In addition to robotic surgery, some NHS trusts are exploring unconventional applications of robotics and AI. Milton Keynes University Hospital, for instance, has been using penguin-shaped androids as hospital porters named “Milton.” These robots, developed by British AI firm Academy of Robots, can efficiently move paperwork and medicines across the hospital, freeing up staff time and improving efficiency.
Benefits of embracing modern technology
UK surgeons report losing an average of four hours a week due to inefficient technology, indicating the urgent need for improved tools. Embracing modern tech, such as a completely digital medical records system and virtual twins (3D patient models used for surgical preparation), can enhance patient care and streamline administrative tasks. AI can also play a crucial role in automating image analysis, enabling quicker and more accurate diagnoses.
Trials and success stories
Trials of AI and technology have shown promising results. A pilot study in Surrey used AI from Qure AI to categorize and interpret X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasounds with an impressive accuracy rate of 99.7%. This technology has the potential to relieve pressure on clinicians and radiologists, ensuring timely diagnoses and improved patient care.
Government support and investment
The government recognizes the significance of technology adoption in the NHS’s long-term workforce plan. Embracing AI and new technologies can save staff time and enhance patient care. The government has pledged an investment of £21 million to support the rollout of AI imaging tools like Qure AI across the NHS, underscoring its commitment to leveraging technology for improved healthcare.
The NHS is currently facing unprecedented challenges, with long waiting lists and staffing shortages. To address these issues and prepare for future crises, the healthcare system must fully embrace robotics and AI. Success stories from NHS trusts that have adopted robotic surgery demonstrate the transformational impact of such technologies. Additionally, novel applications of robotics, like the penguin-shaped androids at Milton Keynes University Hospital, illustrate the versatility and potential of technology in healthcare. By investing in AI and modern technology, the NHS can enhance patient care, streamline administrative processes, and ultimately become better equipped to tackle future healthcare challenges.