Intelligent automation for East Suffolk trust

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust has cut the time taken to process the first stage of each GP referral from 15-20 minutes down to five minutes.

Having implemented Thoughtonomy Virtual Workers alongside human teams to improve patient experience and boost employee satisfaction, the program seeks to eliminate the need for staff to spend more than 100 hours a week processing paperwork and instead ensures referrals are actioned 24/7.  

Running since July, the intelligent automation program, which is the first of its kind within the NHS, has enabled the trust to release more than 500 hours of medical secretaries’ time and estimates it will also save £220,000 in associated direct costs by July 2019.

Three virtual workers at Ipswich Hospital actively monitor incoming referrals from the national GP Electronic Referral Service (eRS) in real-time. The virtual worker reads the content and extracts the reason for referral, before merging everything into a single pdf document. The virtual worker then uploads the document into the trust’s administrative systems using highly secure smart card technology and alerts the lead consultant that the referral is ready for review and grading.

The Institute of Public Policy Research states that automation could save the NHS up to £12.5 billion a year, the equivalent of 10 per cent of its annual budget. In addition, it is estimated that a further £6 billion could be saved through automation in social care.

Darren Atkins, deputy director of ICT at the trust, said: “We’re delighted with the results we’ve realised so far and are hugely excited about the potential benefits of automating more processes across our Trust. When you look at the time and cost savings we’ve already banked within just one specific area of our operations, you start to get an idea of how intelligent automation can drive transformation on a huge scale within the NHS.”

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