NHS told to phase out pagers

HOSPITALS in England must phase out pagers by the end of 2021, as the health and social care secretary pushes ahead with his campaign against outdated technology.

Matt Hancock is calling on NHS trusts to ditch the devices in favour of modern alternatives such as mobile phones and apps which he says can deliver more accurate two-way communications at a reduced cost.

The move is part of the minister’s "tech vision" which was unveiled in October with the aim of achieving a "fully digitised" NHS.

Figures from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) show that more than one in 10 of the world’s pagers are used by the NHS. There are currently around 130,000 in use at an annual cost of £6.6 million. The DHSC said most mobile phone companies have phased out support for pagers, leaving only one UK provider. This means a single device can cost up to £400.

A pilot project was carried out in 2017 at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) focusing on the use of Medic Bleep, a messaging and calling system similar to WhatsApp, with enhanced data protection. It reportedly saved junior doctors an average of 48 minutes per shift and nurses 21 minutes.

The DHSC highlighted two key issues for NHS staff:

  • Pagers only offer a one-way form of communication. The recipient is unaware who is contacting them, the reasons why, or the level of urgency. This can interrupt work, waste time, make the prioritisation of tasks difficult and the evidence trail of communications is limited.
  • Pagers do not support the sharing of information between staff on the move. Mobile phones and apps are able to do all of this more quickly and at a reduced cost.

However, the plan does allow pagers in emergency situations, such as when wi-fi or other forms of communication have failed. This echoes concerns from a number of healthcare staff who commented on Mr Hancock's announcement on Twitter. They raised issues over unreliable hospital wi-fi/mobile phone reception, potential delays in the transmission of urgent text messages, and the risk of smartphone signals interfering with the operation of sensitive medical equipment.

Mr Hancock said: "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 round outdated kit."