Calls to the NHS 111 helpline could be answered by robots within the next two years, a leaked report suggests.
NHS England says it is likely smartphones will become ‘the primary method of accessing health services’.
By 2020, nearly 16 million queries may be processed by algorithms rather than phone operators, the report adds.
In addition, 25 per cent of NHS 111 calls will be logged online next year, rising to one-third by 2020, according to the report, which is dated last month.
This controversial move is being introduced to ease overstretched NHS staff’s workloads after one in five non-emergency callers gave up on the busiest day over the New Year period as a record numbers of calls came in, according to official figures.
Yet some are concerned this may affect people without internet access, such as the elderly.
Calls to the NHS 111 helpline could be answered by robots within the next two years (stock)
NHS IS ‘HAEMORRHAGING’ NURSES AS 33,000 QUIT IN ONE YEAR
The NHS is ‘haemorrhaging’ nurses as 33,000 quit in one year, it was revealed last week.
One in 10 nurses are leaving their position in England every 12 months, which is enough to staff more than 20 hospitals and means quitters outnumbered joiners by 3,000 last year.
Nurses leaving the profession are up by 20 per cent since 2012 to 2013, which adds extra pressure to already strained hospitals and requires staff be pulled off special research projects to help out.
Of those quitting, more than half are under 40, with many citing stress and rising workloads for being behind their decision to leave.
Although the Government is increasing the number of nurse training places by 25 per cent this year, it will be three years before they graduate, with one in nine nursing positions currently being vacant.
‘Should be a win-win’
The digital service will be rolled out across England by the end of 2018, where 16 million non-emergency calls will be dealt with digitally, The Telegraph reported.
Patients will either be given automated advice, offered a call back or connected straight to a GP.
Inspired by Australian systems, such models could effectively solve 33 per cent of calls.
In the future, the model will also be set up to 999 ambulance services, according to the report, which was leaked to the Health Service Journal.
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘NHS 111 Online offers an additional route for urgent medical advice as an extra option.
‘If it frees up time for staff to spend with those patients who do prefer a direct conversation, that should be a win-win.’
Poor scheme uptake
Overall, logging 111 enquiries online was not widely used during its trial period, with just six per cent of people using the scheme throughout the six months it was tested in West Yorkshire, Suffolk, the West Midlands and north London.
Previous research also reveals younger people are more likely to use the online service, with three quarters of users being under 35 in certain regions.
According to the report, the online method of logging 111 calls is safe.