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Ipswich Hospital 'virtual workers' free up staff time

image captionIpswich Hospital has introduced intelligent software to help free up its secretaries' time

A hospital has brought in three "virtual workers" to act as medical secretaries work alongside its human staff.

The software used by Ipswich Hospital, run by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust, is designed to free up staff from "mundane and repetitive" tasks.

The computer automaton system helps deal with some of the 2,000 GP referrals the hospital receives.

The hospital claims the software will save the NHS £220,000 within a year.

Darren Atkins, the trust's deputy director of information technology, said the automation software has been running since July.

He said it had helped free up more than 500 hours of medical secretaries' time, reducing the time taken to process each GP referral from 15 or 20 minutes to five minutes.

"When you look at the time and cost savings we've already banked within just one specific area of our operations, you start to get an idea of how intelligent automation can drive transformation on a huge scale within the NHS," he said.

image copyrightPA
image captionThe computer automation system will help save £220,000 within a year, the hospital said

The hospital said prior to the automation program, medical secretaries were responsible for processing referrals manually, which involved downloading and printing documents that they then scanned into a new document.

Now, the robots extract the reason for the referral and supporting clinical information from disparate sources such as blood test results and scans, they then put these into a single document which is flagged to the lead consultant for review and grading.

The scheme has been running in five specialist clinical units: neurology, cardiology, urology, nephrology and haematology.

image copyrightPA
image captionDarren Atkins, the trust's deputy director of information technology, said other hospital trusts and councils were interested

Mr Atkins said the software's actions were auditable and safeguards were built into the system.

The trust is considering rolling the program out to other areas and has received inquiries from up to 30 other trusts and councils, he said.

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