NHS 111 inquiries to be handled by AI, leaked report suggests

Automated online service could ease pressure on health workers

NHS Nurse - WD
NHS staff are included on the list of ‘key workers’
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Artificial intelligence (AI) robots could be dealing with a third of all patient inquiries to the NHS 111 service within a couple of years, according to a leaked report.

The report authors say “new solutions” are needed to handle the helpline’s growing number of users, which is putting “pressure” on the NHS, says The Daily Telegraph.

NHS smartphone apps could become “the primary method of accessing health services”, according to the evaluation, with almost 16 million non-urgent medical inquiries dealt with online by algorithms, rather than by phone operators, by 2020.

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The new service would allow patients to check symptoms online and read tailored advice generated by AI systems, with the option of referring their case for a call from an out-of-hours GP, says Alphr.

An NHS spokesperson told the tech site that a 111 online service would be a “win-win”, helping more users access medical information and freeing up time “for staff to spend with those patients who do prefer a direct conversation”.

However, The Daily Telegraph says patient groups are concerned “about the safety of such models”, and about potential access issues.

Joyce Robins, a co-director of human rights campaign group Patient Concern, told the newspaper: “I think these plans make very unfortunate assumptions that everyone has access to computers and smartphones, when in fact many elderly people do not.”

“I would be very fearful of the kind of mistakes that could be made, when you are relying on people who are poorly and often confused to work their way through computer questionnaires,” Robins added.

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