Almost half of all admin tasks in GP surgeries could be automated to free up 'countless hours' for patient care, a new report has found.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing the NHS to rethink its priorities, the report led by Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, and funded by charity The Health Foundation, looked at the extent to which automation could help GPs.

The report suggested 44 per cent of all administrative work performed in general practice can be either mostly or completely automated, such as running payroll, sorting post, transcription work and printing letters.

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Dr Matthew Willis, research associate at the Oxford Internet Institute and co-author of the report, said: “The primary care sector was already facing many challenges with GPs experiencing increased workloads, workforce shortages and financial pressures.

"The coronavirus pandemic has caused additional disruption for GPs, nurses and support staff, many of whom have needed to transition to digital ways of working, very rapidly."

He added: "With politicians and policy experts talking about the need to create a digital-first NHS with automation at the heart, our new report, grounded in NHS primary care data and observations, provides strong evidence of where automated solutions could work on a day-to-day basis."

Dr Willis said the report provided a 'blueprint' going forward and showed the positive role automation can play in transforming primary care.

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He continued: "Automation presents a lot of positives for healthcare workers. By automating and removing some of the mundane tasks that are rarely patient-facing, countless hours could be freed up, enabling healthcare workers to spend more time with patients, reduce unpaid overtime, and improve overall job satisfaction.”

While the report found every role in general practice, including clinical ones, involved a 'significant amount' of time performing admin work, it showed no single full-time job could be entirely automated.

Tim Horton, associate director of improvement at the Health Foundation, said: “This report shows how better use of digital technology could help reduce administrative burdens on staff, freeing up more time to focus on patients, and in doing so could be one element of the broader strategy needed to reduce pressures in primary care, alongside better recruitment and retention."

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He added, however, that harnessing the benefits would not be straightforward and 'careful consideration' was needed to decide where automation should be used and where it should not.

Mr Horton said the was 'to ensure that it supports staff in the right way and doesn’t remove vital human interaction from healthcare'.

He said it would also be 'critical' to ensure proper training for general practice staff so the new technology was used successfully.