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Health secretary Matt Hancock wants to phase out the use of pagers by NHS staff before the end of 2021, claiming the move will save the health service an estimated £6.6m a year.
NHS Trusts will be expected to have a transition strategy in place to support the eradication of the devices by the end of September 2020, as part of Hancock’s campaign to modernise the communication methods in the Health Service, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed.
This work has already seen the secretary for health and social care champion the use of email to become the default means by which doctors communicate with patients at an event earlier this month, and introduce a ban on NHS organisations purchasing fax machines.
“Every day, our wonderful NHS staff work incredibly hard in what can be challenging and high-pressured environments,” said Hancock in a statement. “The last thing they need are the frustrations of having to deal with outdated technology – they deserve the very best equipment to help them do their jobs.”
“We have to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of archaic technology like pagers and fax machines,” he said. “Email and mobile phones are a more secure, quicker and cheaper way to communicate which allow doctors and nurses to spend more time caring for patients rather than having to work round outdated kit.”
Instead of being considered a default means of alerting staff to tasks that need doing, the move will see pagers relegated to becoming a fall-back option for staff to use during Wi-Fi outages or where other forms of communication are inaccessible.
According to DHSC data, there are 130,000 of the devices in active use in the NHS, at a cost of around £400 each.
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The telco community has gradually wound down its support for the devices in recent years, as user demand for the technology has declined. This, in turn, has led to the operating costs for using pagers to rise in the NHS, which is one of several reasons the DHSC has given for wanting to phase the devices out.
Instead, NHS staff will be encouraged to use mobile devices and messaging apps that facilitate “two-way” conversations and make it easier for staff to share information on the move.
As it stands, pagers “interrupt work, waste time, make the prioritisation of tasks difficult and the evidence trail of communications is limited,” said the DHSC, in a statement.
Furthermore, the department claims a pilot project at an NHS Foundation Trust in West Suffolk saw staff replace the use of pagers with a WhatsApp-style messaging app called Medic Bleep, which reportedly saved its junior doctors around 48 minutes in wasted time per shift.
Nick Jenkins, medical director at West Suffolk Foundation Trust, said: “There is scope for Medic Bleep to be used for everything from arranging shift cover to sharing patient observations.
“Contact with other clinicians can be made much more easily than with a physical bleep, and responses are much quicker,” he said. “All that time we save can be spent caring for patients, so we benefit – but, more importantly – our patients benefit too.”