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NHSX sets out priorities for scaling up RPA


Mark Say Managing Editor

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NHSX has set out a series of ambitions for the scaling up of robotic process automation (RPA) in the NHS over the next four years.

Dr Maddy Borhani (pictured), the organisation’s assistant director of digital productivity, outlined the plans in a presentation to the UKAuthority virtual AI & Bots4Good conference last week.

She said 2021-22 is the year of the structure phase for the team’s ‘Journey to Scale’, the main aim being to deliver a number of initiatives as a step towards the long term vision for 2025.

“So far we have delivered a national community of practice for RPA, a safe space for users over health and social care to access over 25 case studies, ‘how to’ guidance and centre of excellence (COE) material,” Borhani said. “We have also developed the GDE (global digital exemplar) blueprint from Northampton General, that highlights the steps they have taken to become a COE and one of their end-to-end automated processes.

“We have also developed a directory of available processes across the NHS, which we will be sharing with the community of interest.”

Along with these are works in progress, including providing capital support for organisations through the Unified Tech Fund and Elective Recovery Fund. Borhani said the Digital Productivity Fund is also available for the process.

“We are also in the process of developing national guidance for RPA,” she said. “This will highlight how to safely and reliably implement RPA and some human stories, and considerations around regulations, standards, RPA as BAU (business as usual), data access and data sharing, and using RPA as a medical device for automating clinical processes.

“It’s about how we can get RPA right, setting the foundations before moving to it as a BAU.”

Open source move

In addition, a space is being developed on NHSX GitHub to publish RPA processes, effectively making them open source. This is a work in process but there are hopes that up to 10 processes will be available on it by the end of the year.

This follows a programme of work over 2020-21 that laid the foundations for the longer term vision. It included early projects to show the value of the technology, applying it to the booking process for staff Covid-19 antibody testing, the allocation of NHSMail accounts to social care staff, situation reports to NHS England and Improvement and management of oxygen supplies.

These were accompanied by the development of a tactical solution to spread expertise within the system, with the commissioning of two pilot sites at Northampton General and Royal Free NHS Trusts, the building of 47 automated processes across 21 organisations over 12 weeks, and the development a value for money case showing the benefit of the pilot projects.

Looking further forwards, Borhani said there will be a focus on accelerating take-up over 2022-23, providing support for further growth in 2023-24, and embedding self-sustainability over 2024-25.

“RPA is a digital enabler and a gateway to implementing other cognitive technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence,” she said. “So having an automation capability allows every organisation to think about how they can think about more intelligent automation.”

Image from, Open Government Licence v3.0

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