‘Robot receptionists’ are expected to be part of the long-term NHS workforce plan, transforming the way patient appointments are booked to free up staff time.
The 15-year strategy, due to be published at the end of this week, is expected to set out how automated robotic processes can be used to schedule appointments, flag test results and analyse patient referrals, as well as using AI software such as ChatGPT to transcribe doctors’ notes.
A source close to health secretary Steve Barclay told the Telegraph: ‘Technology and innovation, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), are changing the nature of healthcare, and the health secretary is keen that they play a huge part in improving diagnosis and treatment, and cutting waiting lists.
‘He wants AI to help reduce workload and raise productivity, supporting staff and freeing up their time to focus on caring for patients.’
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) declined to comment on the report.
The long-awaited plan will be ‘one of the most significant announcements in the history of the NHS’, the Prime Minister has said and is also due to include a doubling of medical school places and a greater focus on bringing in new NHS staff – including doctors – via apprenticeship routes.
It is not known what plans it will set out to retain existing NHS staff – including GPs – who are currently in dispute with Government over workload and funding.
The NHS is already trialling AI technology to assess skin lesions for the presence of cancer and the Government has previously said that AI in GP practices will help manage patients in the elective care backlog, with studies finding that AI has the potential to relieve pressures on the NHS and its workforce and may produce more empathetic responses than doctors to questions from patients.
However, clear ethical standards and guidance are needed for the use of AI in healthcare settings or there is a risk of damaging trust between doctors and their patients, a report from the Council of Europe has warned, and all health and care staff – especially GPs – should be trained in AI, according to Health Education England (HEE) and the NHS AI Lab.