NHS trusts will be required to phase out pagers by the end of 2021, health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock has announced.
All hospitals will be expected to have plans and supporting infrastructure in place to ensure this is possible by the end of September 2020.
Mobile phones and apps will be the preferred method of getting in touch with clinical staff on the move. They are not only more accurate, but cheaper.
The NHS uses around 130,000 pagers at an annual cost of £6.6 million. More than one in 10 of the world’s pagers are used by the NHS.
What’s more, most mobile phone companies have phased out support for pagers, leaving only one provider in the UK. This means a single device can cost up to £400.
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 limit the evidence trail of communications.
NHS trusts will be allowed to keep some pagers for emergencies, such as when WiFi fails or when other forms of communication are unavailable.
A pilot project at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) in 2017 saved junior doctors 48 minutes per shift and nurses 21 minutes, on average.
The pilot used Medic Bleep, a messaging and calling system similar to Whatsapp, but with enhanced data protection.
The move to replace pagers with modern technology is the next step in achieving a fully digitised NHS, and digital services and IT systems used by the NHS will soon have to meet a clear set of open standards to ensure they can talk to each other across organisational boundaries and can be continuously upgraded.
Any system which does not meet these standards will be phased out and the government will look to end contracts with providers who don’t understand these principles.
Matt Hancock said that the last thing NHS staff needed was to have to deal with outdated technology.
“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to communicate which allow doctors and nurses to spend more time caring for patients rather than having to work round outdated kit,” he said.
“We want to build a health and care service which is fully able to harness the huge potential of technology. This will save lives, support hard-working staff and deliver the cutting-edge care set out by our Long-Term Plan for the NHS.”
WSFT medical director, Nick Jenkins, said: “There is scope for Medic Bleep to be used for everything from arranging shift cover to sharing patient observations. For us, it’s about a digital tool helping our communications to become more efficient.
“Contact with other clinicians can be made much more easily than with a physical bleep, and responses are much quicker. All that time we save can be spent caring for patients, so we benefit, but more importantly, our patients benefit too.”