Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Saturday that the use of pagers for communication within the NHS was to be phased out by 2021.
Currently, the NHS uses about 130,000 pagers, which is roughly 10% of the total left in use globally. The 80s tech costs the NHS about £6.6 million a year, because only one service provider supports them – Capita’s PageOne.
Branding the devices “outdated and expensive,” Hancock plans to replace them with email and mobile phones, which he asserts are “more secure, quicker and a cheaper way to communicate”.
“Every day, our wonderful NHS staff work incredibly hard in what can be challenging and high-pressured environments. The last thing they need are the frustrations of having to deal with outdated technology – they deserve the very best equipment to help them do their jobs.
“We have to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of archaic technology like pagers and fax machines,” he said.
He went on to liken pagers to “archaic” fax machines, which he has also decreed must be eliminated from use within the health service.
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The West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, trialed and replaced it pagers with an app called Medic Beep in 2017. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the app is similar to WhatsApp but is more secure and has successfully saved doctors time.
Medic Beep allows staff to message and call one another, individually or in groups, and is compatible with phones, tablets and desktop computers.
However, health experts are not fully on board with Hancock on this matter. Medical professionals have countered that in emergencies, where time is a crucial factor, pagers are fast and reliable. They also noted that the proposed replacements also have shortcomings.
Critics are concerned about the dependability of mobile phone and Wi-Fi coverage in hospitals, and the dangers of “dead spots”. Others noted that web-based messaging services, can experience delays and back-logs of messages.
Mobile networks can experience slow-downs or poor connectivity, which in a hospital could have fatal consequences. More importantly, mobile phones have the potential to interfere with hospital equipment.
Pagers are fitted with their own transmitters, which means they have excellent and reliable coverage. However, they are only a one-way form of communication and it can cost up to £400 to support a single device.