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5G mobile networks transformative for health and social care, says TechUK

A new report produced by TechUK and the Liverpool 5G testbed shows how 5G can be used effectively in the NHS, and offers recommendations to government

5G mobile networks show enormous potential in the health and social care sector by transforming how patients interact with their own health management and enabling doctors and nurses to monitor patients, according to a new report produced by industry association TechUK and the government-sponsored Liverpool 5G Testbed.

The Liverpool 5G Testbed is one of the original 5G Testbeds set up through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2018 and is run through Liverpool’s Sensor City innovation hub, which received £3.5m of funding.

It has brought together academics, health industry suppliers and various Merseyside NHS trusts to explore the applications of low-cost, open source 5G networks, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and the internet of things (IoT) on patient monitoring and support, and management of loneliness in older adults.

Sophie Weston, programme manager for communications infrastructure at TechUK, said: “Great digital connectivity is crucial for the UK and is essential to enable the adoption of enhanced technologies and applications that can help create a more open digital economy that works for everyone.

“The enhancement that 5G can bring to sectors such a manufacturing, logistics, transport and healthcare will revolutionise our lives. We should be looking forward to the opportunities that 5G can bring and the way that this technology can help with our health, within the hospital and at home.”

The potential for digital technology, including 5G, to ease the pressures heaped on health and social care services by the UK’s ageing population is now well established. In the light of this, the report contains a number of recommendations for government based on the Testbed’s experiences.

The report urges the government to accelerate the deployment of 5G to most of the UK, enabling the NHS and other social care bodies to take advantage of it, with an emphasis on providing health and social care professionals with 5G technology, particularly in rural areas.

The government should also do more to support public uptake of digital health tools by using government data and communication channels to promote their benefits, and reviewing how the personal budgets programme can support uptake better. It must also ensure that NHS England’s new app lets the public access data beyond that held in primary care, and promote the ability to do so.

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It should also act to foster a wider exchange of knowledge and skills between DCMS and the Department of Health and Social Care, particularly around the potential of 5G to the newly established NHSX.

Finally, the government should ensure the NHS is better placed to capitalise on future developments in 5G, as well as AI, genomics, and even blockchain.

Rosemary Kay, project director of the Liverpool 5G Testbed, said: “The innovative and transformative qualities of 5G can drive much-needed changes to health and social care. Some 39% of us will be over 65 by 2036, so more people are living with age-related conditions like heart disease and there is less money to treat them.

“In addition, by 2022, analogue services will disappear, so we need to find reliable, affordable solutions to current telehealth services by that date if we are to continue caring for everyone.

“These are our priorities at Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care. We have created 5G-supported apps and devices that help people with ongoing conditions to live independently at home for longer, without needing a hospital stay. 5G technology is faster, more robust, and supports more data than current options, making it perfect for supporting health devices that people rely on to stay well.”

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