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NHS told to scrap 'archaic' pagers after pilot project at West Suffolk Hospital

The NHS has been told to stop using ‘archaic’ pagers by 2021 to cut costs after West Suffolk Hospital piloted a digital tool which saved clinicians time.

NHS trusts still use about 130,000 pagers, which cost £6.6 million annually and accounts for about 10 per cent of the total left in use globally.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told them to instead use modern alternatives such as mobile phones and apps and highlighted West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s pilot of messaging and calling system Medic Bleep.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. (7432106)
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. (7432106)

The digital tool, similar to Whatsapp, saved junior doctors at West Suffolk 48 minutes per shift and nurses 21 minutes on average in 2017.

Mr Hancock, who is MP for West Suffolk, said: “We have to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of archaic technology like pagers and fax machines.

“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to communicate which allow doctors and nurses to spend more time caring for patients rather than having to work round outdated kit.”

NHS trusts will be allowed to keep some pagers for emergency situations such as when wifi fails.

However, they will be expected to have plans in place by next September to ensure the majority are phased out by the end of 2021.

Matt Hancock, health secretary (7432117)
Matt Hancock, health secretary (7432117)

A single pager can cost up to £400 as there is only one service provider in the UK.

Nick Jenkins, medical director for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As a global digital exemplar trust, we’re always keen to explore new digital opportunities that could improve experience for staff and patients.

“There is scope for Medic Bleep to be used for everything from arranging shift cover to sharing patient observations.

“For us, it’s about a digital tool helping our communications to become more efficient.

“Contact with other clinicians can be made much more easily than with a physical bleep, and responses are much quicker.

“All that time we save can be spent caring for patients, so we benefit, but more importantly, our patients benefit too.”

The plans to replace pagers with modern technology is part of a move towards a fully digitised NHS.

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