Labor has vowed to embrace new technology and artificial intelligence to reduce NHS waiting lists as new figures show the service still uses 79,000 pagers.
Wes Streeting, the party’s shadow health secretary, will outline his plans to get the latest breakthroughs to hospitals faster and at a lower cost.
Speaking at the NHS ConfedExpo conference in Manchester, he will outline how AI can be used to speed up cancer diagnoses and free up staff time.
It comes as a freedom of information request reveals that 80 per cent of NHS trusts still rely on beepers, which former Health Secretary Matt Hancock vows to scrap in 2019.
Only one company in the world still produces pagers, and the NHS is estimated to own one in ten brands still in use.
The number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment in England rose to a record 7.42 million (red line) in April, figures show. More than 370,000 people lined up for routine surgeries, such as hip replacements, waited more than a year (yellow bars)
A new pager costs up to £400 today, meaning the NHS has spent a whopping £32 million on the remaining stock.
Mr Streeting will say in his address to NHS leaders that the failure to move beyond fax machines, paper and pagers shows that the NHS is ‘stuck in the analogue age’.
He will add: ‘It’s a bit rich of Rishi Sunak to promise to make Britain a world leader in AI when he can’t even delete the fax or clean the pager.
“Staffs’ valuable time is wasted as they are forced to bypass this totally outdated equipment when they could be caring for patients.
“There are huge opportunities in emerging technologies that could change the face of healthcare, but how long will it be before they reach the NHS?”
Mr Streeting will point to advances in AI that can diagnose cancers as accurately as the human eye.
This could free up doctors to spend more time with patients, which could help tackle the NHS staffing crisis and prevent missed cancer diagnoses.
Other AI tools can help map radiotherapy to cancer cells more accurately and faster than a doctor who works manually.
The technologies are widely used in the US and Europe but have not yet been adopted in most of the NHS.
Breast cancer patients could also receive their mammogram results much more quickly, instead of waiting and wondering for weeks, using technology that can spot signs of cancer that doctors miss.
The AI has been used in parts of Europe since 2021, but developers are struggling to sell the technology to the NHS.
The technologies all work with radiologists, but can significantly reduce their workload.
AI for breast cancer screening can reduce radiologists’ workload by up to 30 percent and improve cancer detection by 13 percent, studies show.
Slow adoption of new technology has led to a postcode lottery in the NHS, where only a few patients have access to the new kit, as companies must sell to each individual trust.
Only half of NHS patients are in areas where they have access to home kidney tests, which use a smartphone app to detect early signs of chronic kidney disease.
Using an app on their phone and a urine test kit sent to their home, it is designed to reduce unnecessary trips to the GP and hospital by encouraging more people to get an early diagnosis. Labour’s plan includes allowing the NHS to buy the latest technology in bulk so that innovators are not forced to sell to each of the country’s 227 trusts, meaning products can be bought at lower rates.
It will reduce the unnecessary red tape that requires new technology to be re-evaluated by various agencies.
And it will aggregate data records, making it easier and faster to recruit patients for trials of new drugs and technologies.
Mr. Streeting will say: ‘The revolution taking place in medical science, technology and data has the potential to transform our healthcare system.
‘There’s no reason why the NHS shouldn’t lead the rest of the world in this area.
“Artificial intelligence that is already available can free up staff, provide patients with better and faster care, and deliver more value for taxpayers’ money. There’s no time to wait.
Labor will arm the NHS with the best available technology to fight disease.
“We will reduce unnecessary red tape and drive change to finally move our healthcare into the digital age and make it fit for the future.”
NHS trusts spent £112 million on mail last year, despite Jeremy Hunt’s 2013 pledge to go paperless.
And dozens of NHS trusts still use fax machines, despite Mr Hancock banning them in 2018.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare organizations and is a co-organiser of the conference, said: ‘There are huge opportunities for patients and the delivery of care in technology, but NHS leaders across the country routinely tell us about their frustrations with the challenges of adopting and deploying it quickly and at scale.
“A focus on improving the acquisition of new technology and connecting data records is welcome.”
A Conservative spokesperson said: ‘If Labor wants to reduce waiting lists, they have to start in Wales, where they are in power and where patients are more than 600 times more likely to wait more than two years for treatment compared to England.
“In England, we have virtually eliminated the longest waiting times and are investing £123 million in our NHS for new AI technology as we work to deliver on our commitment to reduce waiting lists.”