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Exploring Robotic Process Automation in the NHS

Written by: Pete Waddingham - 29th April 2021

In this blog, Programme Manager Pete Waddingham, shares his thoughts on our recent Health Innovation Exchange Event: Robotic Process Automation and its potential to achieve efficiency savings within the NHS and Social Care.

As part of my role with Yorkshire & Humber AHSN, I recently organised an event looking at Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA is software that uses virtual workers (robots) to perform and automate repetitive tasks. It allows organisations to offload manual processes and support the workforce. It can provide organisations with immediate productivity gains, near zero error rates, reduced operational costs, and the opportunity to increase the quality of patient care.

Key speakers

The event was opened up by Dr. Maddy Borhani – Senior Digital Productivity Manager at NHSX. Maddy gave an excellent overview on the Strategic context of RPA and NHSX’s future plans. We then heard from two RPA Centres of Excellence including Darren Atkins – Chief Technology Officer at Royal Free London Hospitals, who are working in partnership with Leeds Teaching Hospitals (Richard Moyes, General Manager Outpatients) and Tremaine Richard-Noel – Head of Emerging Technology and RPA Programme Director for the Automation Accelerator at Northampton General Hospital (NGH). Neil Picton – Head of Workforce Engagement & Information at Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust also gave a great presentation on their RPA journey and the lessons learnt.

As part of the event, it was important for us to hear from Providers implementing RPA in order to bring to life the real-world case studies and shared learning. I wanted speakers to highlight that RPA has the potential to impact across all healthcare settings: Primary, Community, Secondary and Social Care.

Main Applications

Whilst not intending to be a definitive list, RPA can help automate a number of processes including:

  • Extract information from documents /emails/forms and input into systems
  • Extract information from one system to put in to another
  • Highlight missed / incomplete information and ensure completed
  • Translate information from various languages
  • Save documents/key information in folders
  • Contact people / patients based on set criteria
  • Look for patterns in information and highlight key areas

All of the above can be considered, in terms of the work carried out by both clinical and administrative staff across the NHS and wider social care.

Key reflections from the event

There were many areas that stood out for me, but I just wanted to highlight three key ones:

  • Staff engagement on RPA is fundamental – over 500 ideas had been submitted to NGH Automation Acceleration project. This shows that the frontline can easily identify areas of benefit. However, staff must also be engaged to ensure that RPA is not seen as a replacement for jobs. Improving quality and outcomes should be at the forefront.
  • Providers/Systems wanting to adopt RPA need to consider dedicated resource for RPA; not an add on to someone’s job description. The Centres of Excellence are freely available to offer support and guidance in this area.
  • Planning for business continuity needs to be part of any RPA journey e.g. in the event RPA is not available, contingencies need to be in place.
  • RPA can be deployed quickly and see efficiency savings rapidly. In one case study presented in Outpatients, a solution to automate patient cancellations took three weeks to deploy, freed up 13,000 appointments and saved £2.1m.

What next?

In terms of what next, we are continuing our discussions with key stakeholders so that we can understand the future direction and the system benefits. We are starting to engage with our local ICS partners to make them aware of the opportunities available and hopefully begin to identify some real multi setting applications of RPA. This technology/innovation feels that it will have even more impact for patients, and the system, when it cuts across pathways of care.

We are also starting to consider how RPA can contribute to the NHS’s Operating Guidance, addressing issues such as the backlog or staff wellbeing. Both these areas could be strong contenders for RPA; with long waiting times and workforce under strain due to Covid (and its after affects) implementing solutions that free resources, capacity and time can only be a good thing for patients and the wellbeing of our NHS workforce.

Finally, there is also the area of environmental sustainability. Some people may know that this is an area I am supporting the AHSN and wider AHSN Network with. Often when there is inefficiency in systems and processes it comes with a negative environmental impact. I would love to help systems who adopt RPA to ensure this added benefit is not lost.

  • If you are interested in finding out more about RPA and the benefits it can bring or how the AHSN and Centres of Excellence may be able to help with this journey, please contact
  • If you weren’t able to attend the event you can watch the video recording below or go to our You Tube Channel.
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