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Matt Hancock bans pagers from the NHS

Credit: Department of Health and Social Care

The Health and Social Care secretary, Matt Hancock, has ordered the removal of pagers for non-emergency communications by the end of 2021.

All NHS Trust hospitals will be expected to have plans and infrastructure in place in place to ensure this is possible by the end of September 2020.

NHS staff teams will instead use modern alternatives, such as apps and smart phones – which can deliver more accurate two-way communications at a reduced cost.

A pilot project held at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) in 2017 saved junior doctors 48 minutes per shift and nurses saved 21 minutes on average.

Mr Hancock said: “Every day, our wonderful NHS staff work incredibly hard in what can be challenging and high-pressured environments.

“The last thing they need are the frustrations of having to deal with outdated technology – they deserve the very best equipment to help them do their jobs.

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to communicate which allow doctors and nurses to spend more time caring for patients rather than having to work around outdated kit.”

The NHS uses an average of 130,000 pagers at an annual cost of £6.6 million and more than one in 10 of the world’s pagers are used by the NHS.

Most mobile phone companies have phased out support for pagers, leaving only one provider in the UK which means a single device can cost up to £400.

“We want to build a health and care service which is fully able to harness the huge potential of technology. This will save lives, support hard-working staff and deliver the cutting-edge care set out by our Long Term Plan for the NHS,” said Mr Hancock.

The WSFT pilot project used Medic Bleep, a messaging and calling system similar to Whatsapp, with enhanced data protection.

Nick Jenkins, WSFT medical director, 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.”

NHS Trusts will be allowed to keep some pagers for emergency situations, such as when Wi-Fi fails or when other forms of communication are unavailable.

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Tamara Birch