The future of tech in the NHS
A stephoscope on a computer keyboard.

The Chancellor’s Spring Budget announced a host of different projects and funding plans across a variety of sectors in the UK. From tax cuts to vaping regulations, there were so many announcements. HB writer Robyn Quick looks at how some of this money might be spent.

In healthcare, the main focus was to reform how the NHS operates with a chunk of government funding. 

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the government plans to modernise the NHS’s “outdated” IT systems with £3.4 billion of capital investment. A part of this investment, specifically £800 million, will introduce technology to free up time for staff at the front line of public services. 

Hunt said that the aim is to “reduce the 13 million hours lost by doctors every year because of old IT.” He said in the Budget that this would be done by using artificial intelligence (AI) to tackle issues like late appointments that are often dealt with by healthcare workers. 
After the Budget was announced, secretary of state for science and technology Michelle Donelan, said: “The public and economic benefits technological and scientific innovation can drive are immense.

“That is why I am focused on delivering this government’s record level of investment to cement the UK’s place as a Science and Technology Superpower.”

She said that the Budget put the NHS “firmly on the path to delivering this goal.”
Donelan added: “Whether channelling technological advances into the public sector or doubling down on our leadership in AI advances and safety, we are unleashing innovation to drive economic growth and prosperity for everyone.”


AI is an ever-expanding world covering so many different areas, so what will the AI proposed by the government actually be doing? 

NHS England announced their plans for how AI in healthcare will supposedly slash doctors’ wasted hours on 14 March. 

They said they will roll out AI to reduce the number of missed appointments and free up staff time to help bring down the waiting list for elective care.

Created by Deep Medical and co-designed by a frontline worker and NHS clinical fellow, the software is meant to predict likely missed appointments through algorithms and anonymised data, breaking down the reasons why someone may not attend an appointment using a range of external insights including the weather, traffic, and jobs, and offers back-up bookings.
This kind of work is usually handled by healthcare staff, and can be taxing and time-consuming. 
The appointments are then arranged for the most convenient time for patients – for example, it will give evening and weekend slots to those less able to take time off during the day.

The system also implements intelligent back-up bookings to ensure no clinical time is lost.
It has been piloted for six months at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, leading to a 30 per cent fall in non-attendances. A total of 377 did not attends (DNAs) were prevented during the pilot period and almost 2,000 additional patients were seen. It is estimated the trust, which supports a population of 1.2 million people, could save £27.5 million a year by continuing with the programme.
It may seem surprising considering the difficulty that some patients have to book an appointment, but published data shows that of 124.5 million outpatient appointments across the NHS in England last year, eight million (6.4 per cent) were not attended by the patient. 

It is estimated this level of missed appointments has an annual cost to the NHS of £1.2 billion.
Figures for last year also show the highest proportion of missed appointments were physiotherapy – with more than one in 10 appointments marked as DNAs (11 per cent) – followed by cardiology (8.9 per cent), ophthalmology (8.8 per cent), and trauma and orthopaedics (7.9 per cent).
AI scanners are also on the way as part of the government’s further investment into technology.


The Chancellor promised 100 new AI-fitted MRI scanners that will aim to help doctors deliver results more quickly and accurately to 130,000 patients every year. 
These scanners will be introduced as part of the community diagnostic centre (CDC) programme backed by part of the £2.3 billion capital investment in diagnostic transformation. 
Andrew Stephenson, health minister, said: “Diagnostic centres are playing a vital role in helping to cut waiting lists by delivering checks and scans to people who need them, helping reduce pressures faced by hospitals across the country. 
“This is a key part of our long-term plan to make the NHS faster, simpler and fairer for patients.”
The government said the CDCs for NHS patients will be placed in easy-to-reach locations like shopping centres and near football stadiums so they are easy to access for more people. 
There are already 155 CDCs open across the country, which the government said plays a crucial role in faster diagnosis for illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.