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We can’t rely on the tech wizard

We can’t rely on the tech wizard

Editor Jaimie Kaffash says we should focus on getting the NHS’ basic technology right before exploring ‘robot receptionists’ and the like

The Government and NHS England workforce plan is due this week, but it’s likely we have heard the main points through the constant leaking to the national press. We are sure there will be a doubling of medical school places, the introduction of apprenticeships and moving SAS doctors to general practice.

But perhaps the most surprising element was the announcement that there will be a focus on AI to triage. The limited details we have don’t clarify whether this is in general practice, but with the Government’s obsession with improving triage technology, we can assume that it will be rolled out at some point.

There is a TV trope, satirised by The Simpsons among others, called ‘a wizard did it’. This means where there are plot holes, we introduce a wizard to explain it away. I always feel that the reliance on high tech is a bit like this, and this AI triage is no different.

If it works, then great. But it has to be counted as a bonus if it works – if it turns out to be a pillar of the plan, we are in real trouble. It will be piloted, but even this will only give us slight clues as to its utility – as I have argued before, the ‘innovative’ practices often used to pilot such schemes are not indicative of the wider body of practices.

My main fear is that we can’t even get basic tech right. Practices are facing software crashes on a constant basis, resorting to using pen and paper and facing chaos in their appointment books. To get AI working at a level where it will fill workforce gaps without compromising patient safety will take huge initial investment and – even more importantly – an even bigger maintenance budget. Considering the state of basic tech in the NHS, this will take a major culture change – and one that should start with the basic systems.

AI is shiny and new. And I’m no dinosaur – if it does offer new approaches, we should of course explore it. But get the basics right first. This might not be as exciting as wizards, but it is needed more than ever.

Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

David Church 28 June, 2023 6:57 pm

Presumably the massive expansion in Medical School places will be mainly at Hogwarts Wizarding school, but how many of those places have been reserved for AI-bots instead of real doctors?

Barry Sullman 28 June, 2023 10:27 pm

Why is the government so resistant to investing in doctors and developing the partnership model? Why the intense aversion to paying doctors a better salary to do the toughest job in the NHS? They are ready to throw money on anything except where it is actually needed and will make a difference.

David OHagan 29 June, 2023 10:13 am

hasn’t the brains behind babylon, and circle got some spare time owing to their massive success
perhaps he has a used AI triage system, good for a few hundred miles,
one careful lady owner?

Philip Cox 29 June, 2023 10:16 am

This government wants to control. AI enables government control where as investing in pesky doctors who think for themselves is a bad idea.
Maybe it goes back to the 70s miner strike where a powerful group bought down Edward Heath.

Centreground Centreground 29 June, 2023 2:15 pm

The article makes a very valuable point in that NHS funding should first be directed at securing the viability of the basic Primary care IT systems that practices rely on and direct this AI funding here where it is desperately needed first.
This will protect patients and staff.
The additional savings from the highly welcomed BMA campaign to scrap PCNs and save the hundreds of millions of pounds of NHS funding squandered by PCNs in unwarranted Clinical Director fees and unnecessary PCN NHS resource wastage added to this AI funding will bolster the NHS . This is likely to be resisted by self serving heads of PCNs who have benefitted financially to astronomical levels and they will fight tooth and nail to preserve their own disgraceful financial gains which have cost NHS Primary Care staff and patients dearly in every respect for many years.