NHS using one in 10 of world's pagers despite fears over outdated technology, figures show

Critics said the service, which was designed in the 1940s, is a ‘blunt instrument’ for communication

Jeff Farrell
Saturday 09 September 2017 10:09
Hospital workers – including doctors, nurses and paramedics – use the service to contact each other
Hospital workers – including doctors, nurses and paramedics – use the service to contact each other

The NHS has more than one in 10 of the world’s pagers in use at a cost of £6.6million a year – despite the availability of modern technology at half the price, figures show.

Doctors, nurses and other workers in hospitals such as paramedics use the ageing devices – which were invented in the 1940s - to communicate with each other.

Critics described the pager as a “blunt instrument” and said the bleep the devices give off do not give the user any sense of “urgent priority” to answer the incoming message.

They also said more modern ways for staff to contact each other – such as apps on smartphones – would cost health chiefs £2.7m a year - half the price of the system in use.

There are some 130,000 of the pagers in use across 141 hospitals, according to a response to a Freedom of Information request by technology company CommonTime.

Rowan Pritchard Jones, chief clinical information officer at the St Helens and Knowsley teaching hospitals NHS trust, said: “Pagers represent 20th-century technology and are a blunt instrument for communication.

“Apart from a ‘fast bleep’, doctors have no sense of the urgency or priority of a call, end up writing down messages that can be lost, and often find a telephone number engaged when they do answer it.”

Chloe Westley, Campaign Manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance, told The Independent: "Taxpayers will wonder why the NHS is spending millions on outdated technology, especially at a time when savings need to be made.

“The public sector should embrace innovation as new technologies can improve services and save money.”

But Geoff Hall, of the Informatics Leeds Cancer Centre, defended the use of the devices in the NHS.

He said: “Pagers seem like old technology, but they still exist purely for their inherent high levels of resilience. They are simple to use, i.e. calls can be pushed out by ringing one number, there is an audit trail, the device is easy to carry, and the battery lasts months, not hours.

“They do only one task, but they do it well. They provide a last line of defence”.

The study by CommonTime found that there are 591 pagers in use on average in hospitals. Only one in three hospitals said they never use the archaic technology.

Only two operators in Britain provide the network for pagers. Vodafone said earlier this year it will be selling off its platform for the devices.

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