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NHS to extend use of AI to cut waiting times and missed appointments

Following a pilot of AI software predicting likely missed appointments at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, 10 further trusts will deploy the system

NHS England will roll out artificial intelligence (AI) software to 10 trusts across the country, aiming to reduce waiting times and cut the number of missed appointments in the NHS.

The AI software has been piloted at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust for the past six months, and has been a big success, with a 30% drop in non-attendance.

The software, which was designed by Deep Medical, together with a frontline clinician, predicts the likelihood of missed appointments, using a series of algorithms and anonymised data, looking at reasons why someone may not attend their appointment, such as weather and traffic conditions, and jobs. The system is then able to offer appointments at more convenient times, such as during the evening or weekends for those who are unable to take time off during the day. It also offers intelligence backup bookings.  

During the pilot, Mid and South Essex managed to prevent 377 did not attends (DNAs), and an additional 1,910 patients were seen. The trust estimates that it could save £27.5m a year by continuing to use the software.

Overall, DNAs cost the NHS £1.2bn annually, and the software is now being rolled out at a further 10 trusts, following the successful pilot.

Vin Diwakar, national director for transformation at NHS England, said the use of AI to reduce the number of DNAs is another example of how technology can help improve care for patients. “Not only can these technologies help to free up doctors’ time to treat more patients and reduce waiting times for planned care, it means a significant amount of money can be invested in frontline care rather than lost to missed appointments,” he said.

“And the work being done across the country through these AI pilots shows that initiatives like this can deliver results in a short period of time, while also supporting patients to take control over their own care, and help to better understand and reduce health inequalities.”

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Several other trusts are also doing their own work with AI to improve patient care. Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has piloted their own AI tool, developed by Alder Hey Innovation. The tool used a range of markers to predict and identify those children most at risk of missing appointments.

Two of the key reasons why children missed appointments were parents forgetting the appointment as they did not get reminders, or because they didn’t have the money to travel to the hospital.

The AI predictor would then send a text reminder, as well as offer support to patients having a greater than 50% chance of missing their appointment. For those who were likely to miss the appointment due to travel costs, the AI predictor would send an offer of funded transport.

Ruth Brown, co-chair of the Children’s Hospital Alliance and Sheffield Children’s CEO, said that South Yorkshire is the fourth-most deprived integrated care system in the country, and Sheffield itself has five wards where more than 50% of children live in poverty.

“We know there is a strong correlation between deprivation and lack of attendance for outpatient appointments,” she said.

“At Sheffield Children’s we are also keen to embrace technology, and this opportunity to test out the effectiveness of AI was one we welcomed, and it’s clear from our pilots – funded through the Children’s Hospital Alliance – that our AI-driven interventions to support families with text reminders and transport and parking support have been very successful in reducing the number of Was Not Brought episodes.”

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