Embracing technology in health and social care

This paper is the second in the TPA series investigating automation in the public sector. In our first paper we set out the benefits for taxpayers, public sector workers, and the economy of increasing the rate of automation in the public sector. These benefits include public services being delivered in a more cost effective and efficient way as productivity increases. Public sector workers will also be freed up from performing mundane and repetitive tasks and be able to undertake more rewarding and
challenging work.

The previous paper looked at the potential savings in terms of staff costs. It found that introducing automation could result in annual savings of £17 billion for the public sector by 2030.1 In this paper we focus our attention on the potential savings in terms of staff costs and other expenditure resulting from the accelerated adoption of automation in health and social care in the UK.

There are case studies interspersed throughout the paper. They contain examples of automation being used in a health and social context in the UK and around the world. These are for illustrative purposes and explain how these technologies have the potential to improve patient outcomes and also achieve significant savings.

The NHS is seldom out of the news and hardly a day goes by without newspapers and the broadcast media highlighting the challenges facing it. Indeed, the government recently announced a substantial increase in funding for the NHS.

Over the coming decades the UK will have an ageing population, which will place increased pressure on both health and social care. It is essential that this challenge is addressed, so that high quality health and social care can be provided now and into the future.

This paper will examine the potential impact of the increased use of automation in health and social care. It will consider how embracing existing and developing technology can enable the health and social care system to increase productivity, reduce costs, and result in better – world class – health and social care.

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Key findings

  • The potential value of time released for NHS staff through improved productivity from increased automation is estimated to be £12.5 billion a year.
  • The social care sector could similarly save £5.9 billion annually by improved productivity from accelerated automation.
  • These combine to give potential annual savings of up to £18.5 billion by 20301
  • The ways these annual savings could be achieved by embracing automation include:
    • £1.1 billion in pathology costs
    • £75 million on medication for insomnia, depression, and anxiety
    • Improved cardiovascular diagnosis delivering savings of £300 million
    • Improvements in end of life care that could yield savings of more than £556 million
    • The greater use of automated systems to help patients recover better after operations,
      thereby saving the NHS £100 million.
  • There will be an increase from 19 per cent of the population being above the state pension age in 2016 to 23.1 per cent in 2066.
  • Public spending on health as a percentage of national income is projected to increase to over 12 per cent of national income by 2067.
  • The NHS is facing significant challenges, and is introducing steps to tackle them.
  • There are barriers to entry into the NHS for companies offering innovative healthcare solutions. Many are being addressed and in the long term it's crucial that the NHS remains open to new ideas and innovation.
  • In order to continue to provide world class care now and in the future, the NHS will have to take steps to increase its productivity. Progress is already being made in this regard, but big productivity gains are made when technology is embraced

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1  These figures are based on analysis conducted by IPPR on data provided by McKinsey and the NHS. Using different methods of analysis may reveal different potential savings.

Full sources are provided in the report's bibliography.

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