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Benefits of 5G innovation may outweigh costs for NHS, says top surgeon

The advent of 5G mobile networking could enable new modes of clinical practice that will help bring costs down for the cash-starved NHS

The benefits that the use of 5G mobile networking and associated technological innovation will bring to patient care in the NHS will far outweigh the costs of setting it up, according to one of the UK’s top surgeons.

Speaking at a demonstration of how 5G could enable more precise robotic techniques to be used in the operating theatre at King’s College London (KCL), Prokar Dasgupta – a leading urology and prostate cancer specialist who pioneered the use of surgical robotics at Guys Hospital in 2002 – said the cost of robotics in medicine, for example, was coming down.

“There is a new generation of robots coming that will be cheaper, the same price as keyhole surgery or even traditional surgery,” he said.

Also, the use of 5G networking would eventually resolve many other problems that drain scarce NHS funds, he said. For example, the ability to control robotic surgeons remotely will save travel costs for specialists and their patients, while in day-to-day practice, remote monitoring via wearables over ultrafast mobile networks will allow patients to stay in their homes longer.

The demonstration, conducted with the help of KCL telecoms researcher Maria Lema and robotics lecturer Hongbin Liu using Ericsson technology, saw Dasgupta control a robotic arm over a private software-defined network (simulating a future 5G network) using a connected glove with sensors in its fingers and vibrating actuators to give haptic feedback to the wearer, with visual feedback provided over a real-time video link.

“It completely changes the way a surgeon like me can interact with a robot or see in real time what is happening with our patients,” said Dasgupta.

In support of its technological demo, Ericsson has conducted a major new study into 5G in the healthcare sector. Vishnu Singh, director at Ericsson’s ConsumerLab research unit, laid out some of the key findings, saying that the 5G-enabled hospital would be more like a datacentre, hosting and crunching vast amounts of patient data to help clinicians effectively decentralise health services.

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“For consumers, this trend is very much driven by convenience, but decision-makers want savings and efficiency to address resource scarcity in healthcare,” said Singh.

The survey suggested there was much work still to be done to convince a majority of IT decision-makers that 5G would benefit the healthcare sector.

Good numbers of those questioned expected 5G to bring better coverage, higher speeds, reliability and bandwidth, and low latency for real-time remote surgery, but concerns were raised about the possibility of mobile signal not-spots affecting data quality, and data security.

Ericsson called for cross-sector collaboration between healthcare professionals and the ICT industry, especially telecoms operators. ..................................................................................................................

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