Digital colleagues like Amelia can help the NHS service more patients with fewer nurses

With the NHS staffing crisis showing few signs of abating, government regulators are urging the various NHS trusts to re-evaluate how they develop their workforce plans, including assessing their use of technology to support employee systems. While the current workforce shortage is due to many factors and not solely a matter of workforce planning, this latest development provides NHS trusts with an ideal opportunity to look at how AI broadly, and cognitive AI colleagues such as Amelia in particular, can play a critical role for current and future staffing needs.

NHS Improvement, the regulatory body that oversees the hundreds of local trusts, reviewed trusts’ workforce plans and declared that all of them could be “more robust.” In response, the regulator released an online assessment toolkit for “reviewing, upgrading and strengthening” workforce development. The toolkit itself focuses on five key factors: leadership, technology, information, method and governance, engagement and integration, and strategy. Given the urgency of the current workforce shortage, NHS trusts are expected to use the toolkit now as they develop workforce plans for next year.

AI is not specifically mentioned in the technology assessment from the online toolkit, although roles for cognitive technology can certainly be implied. The assessment asks for details on systems to support workforce scheduling and planning, and systems to forecast short- and long-term staffing requirements which presumably would be based on the number of patients requiring care, and for what medical services.

This NHS talent hemorrhage is part of a longer trend, but prior to Brexit had been somewhat mitigated by nurses from the EU — now it is accelerating.

In the UK’s widening nursing shortage, nearly one-in-nine nursing posts are currently vacant. Many older nurses are opting to retire as soon as they hit 55, while younger ones are, in many cases, leaving to pursue more lucrative careers in the private sector. More than 10% of the nursing workforce has exited the NHS in each of the previous three years. This talent hemorrhage is part of a longer trend, but prior to Brexit had been somewhat mitigated by nurses from the EU – now it is accelerating.

Admittedly, the NHS labor crisis is not solely a matter of staffing levels. Advances in technology and science have allowed more people to live for far longer, and healthcare infrastructures in many countries including the UK simply haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with the exploding demand from an aging population. In 1974, the median age in the UK was 34; by 2014, it had risen to 40. Included in these stats is a marked increase in the number of octogenarians and above. In 2014, 1.5% of the UK’s population was 85-plus – this demographic which is projected to rise to 3.6% by 2039. The government estimates that providing hospital and community health services for this group is around three times greater than for a person between 65 to 74.

Given these emerging patient care trends combined with the workforce shortage, without some form of intervention or fundamental reinvention, the NHS is destined to struggle for the foreseeable future. To its credit, NHS Improvement recognized that any reinvention first requires a rigorous evaluation of how NHS trusts run employee operations, and that changes should be made quickly.


An enterprise-scale solution for a system-wide crisis

It’s no secret that nurses in many countries and regions are feeling overwhelmed, particularly with common administrative tasks that are a regular part of their duties. Relieving nurses of some of this administrative pressure through AI should be part of an overall workforce planning strategy.

To that end, we would strongly advocate that AI-powered digital colleagues such as Amelia offer a way forward when discussing workforce-related issues. Amelia could prove particularly valuable in helping patients and providers address and manage chronic, long term conditions (LTCs). Data from the last General Household Survey indicated that more than 30% of people in the UK reported that they had a chronic condition. This group accounts for 52% of appointments with family physicians, 65% of all hospital outpatient appointments, and 72% of hospital bed stays. The UK Department of Health estimates that LTCs account for 70% of total health and social care spending in England. The trend is similar in the rest of the UK; the Scottish government estimates that LTCs account for 80% of all general practice consultations and 60% of hospital bed stays.

Amelia allows patients to self-manage their LTC by intelligently assisting with scheduling doctors’ appointments, tests, and medicines. She can also offer condition-specific advice and well-curated health management tips. A robust digital colleague like Amelia can free caregivers from high-volume patient needs to provide specialized care for unique or pressing concerns, while subsequently providing patients with enhanced 24/7 access to medical services.

As the NHS moves forward to confront the mounting crisis, it would be wise to accelerate its assessment of technology that can take pressure off of the human workforce while maintaining if not improving services. By following the footsteps of other organizations which have tapped the power of digital colleagues in pursuit of increased productivity and savings, NHS trusts could implement a solution that would allow them to impart more personalized care with fewer resources.