UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly banking on a revamped NHS mobile app to help reduce patient waiting lists for hospital treatment. It is hoped the app can be used to help citizens choose different clinics which are less busy, in a bid to reduce the backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to The i, new functionality will be added to the NHS app to allow patients to check the waiting times for an appointment at their nearest surrounding hospitals. It is hoped that giving citizens a choice of where to have their treatment will help ease pressure on hospitals currently managing a waiting list of 7.22 million in England.
The data is already available on ‘My Planned Care‘ platform, launched in February 2022. This was created to help patients choose where to have their surgeries, access tailored information and understand their expected waiting times. It formed part of a wide-ranging effort to tackle the backlog of elective care caused by the Covier-19 pandemic, the government said at the time.
The update to the NHS app was apparently discussed at cabinet last week, with Sunak encouraged by the progress that had been made. However, no timeline has been laid out for the implementation of the system.
NHS app continues to be pushed as ‘new front door’ to health service
As of January 2023, over 30 million users had registered to use the NHS app. The UK government wants 75% (42 million) of England’s population to be registered by 2024.
The app enables patients to make appointments with their GPs, order repeat prescriptions electronically and send messages to surgeries. It also links up to other services such as ‘Patient Knows Best’, which help citizens review communications from hospitals.
However, only 24 of the 219 NHS trusts across the country make use of features on the NHS app, risking some patients being left behind in the digital transformation of the health system.
Sam Smith, head of policy at medConfidential, told Tech Monitor: “The main reason for the Department for Health and Social Care making a big splash about [the NHS app] is because people don’t know the NHS website already can do similar.
Smith says more people finding out what the app can do “is a good act”, and says it could potentially be a useful to bring down waiting lists at hospitals.
“If you have a couple of choices, you can potentially pick the shortest waiting time, which also helps everyone else at the longer waiting time hospitals,” Smith says. “Having load balancing available is helpful even if you don’t do anything different, because others can.
He adds that using the app could encourage people to seek treatment at a hospital further from their home which is less busy. “Making that ‘easy’ rather than just ‘possible’ will help people,” he says.
Tech Monitor has contacted DHSC and NHS Digital for confirmation on when the new features will launch.