The NHS faces a huge challenge ahead, as it works to recover from the impact of the pandemic while managing ever-growing demand.

Automation and AI hold significant potential to support the NHS in its recovery through facilitating improvements in care and productivity. But surveys conducted by YouGov for our report Switched on found both public and NHS staff opinion divided on whether automation and AI are a good thing for health care – with the prospect of health care becoming more ‘impersonal’ with less human contact ranked as the biggest risk.

This year will see the government and NHS working to shape the role of automation and AI in our health care system through the development of the AI strategy, the implementation of the data strategy, the tech fund to support elective recovery, and new plans on service transformation.

The Health Foundation will be engaging with these initiatives, sharing our learning on what it will take to realise the potential of new technologies for patients, the public and NHS staff.

Here we have identified 15 recommendations for how policymakers can get the best out of automation and AI in health care.

1. Engage with the public and NHS workforce to ensure their views shape high-level decisions about how tech should and shouldn’t be used.

2. Support and learn from research into the ethical and quality issues created by the use of automation and AI in health care.

3. Ensure those developing and implementing new technological interventions work with patients and staff to address user needs and perspectives.

4. Provide funding and support through national improvement programmes and reformed payment mechanisms to help teams implement new technologies successfully.

5. Develop digital capability and infrastructure across the NHS, so that all health care providers are able to take advantage of technological opportunities.

6. Expand funding for real-world testing and rapid evaluation to demonstrate that new applications of automation and AI are safe and effective.

7. Create support for automation and AI by engaging with the public and NHS workforce to raise awareness, build confidence and understand what matters to them.

8. Strengthen regulation, standards and assurance, in order to address issues such as bias, transparency and accountability, and to ensure technologies are safe, effective and ethical.

9. Ensure the relationship between the NHS and industry works in the interests of the health service rather than letting the market alone drive the development and spread of technologies.

10. Ensure training equips staff with the capabilities they need to use automation and AI effectively in future, and prevents the loss of important skills as automation advances.

11. Ensure workforce planning takes account of the impact of automation and AI on different occupational groups and supports health care roles to evolve appropriately.

12. Prioritise applications of automation and AI that can help staff and improve the quality of work, including technologies to support admin and operational tasks.

13. Ensure those designing and implementing technologies engage with patients who have the greatest needs, to understand how automation and AI can improve their care and avoid negative impacts.

14. Commit to making new technologies as inclusive as possible, supporting patients with the skills they need to access and use them effectively.

15. Ensure there are high-quality non-digital options available for patients where necessary and appropriate.

Download and share our recommendations infographic below.

Automation policy recommendations

Further reading

Research report

Switched on

June 2021
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