Should the NHS ditch pagers?

The "outdated" pagers will be phased out of the NHS by 2021


Matt Hancock's plan to purge NHS pagers is pretty dumb. Here's why

Health Secretary Matt Hancock wants to ban pagers from the NHS, calling the devices "archaic". The problem? They save lives. And, in this instance, old technology really does work.

Just ask Simon Scott-Hayward. He's a GP who volunteers with a local ambulance service in Devon to reach patients in the rural area more quickly. In October, he was training on Dartmoor with a search and rescue group, and though he wasn't on call, he still carried his pager as his mobile had no signal.

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Should the NHS ditch pagers?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Pagers may seem like a relic from the past, but they are a tool still used by the NHS.

The health service is one of the few organisations left that still relies on pagers, but Matt Hancock wants to replace them with better technology.

The health secretary has ordered the phasing out of pagers in the NHS by 2021, saying they are "archaic" and "outdated".

However, his plans have been attacked as "pretty dumb" - with some arguing that pagers can work better than mobile phones.

The Claim

Hancock calls the use of pagers in the NHS "outdated", and argues that phasing them out will save lives and support hard-working staff in "challenging and high-pressured environments".

NHS trusts will be required to phase out pagers by the end of 2021 - and all hospitals are expected to have plans in place to replace them by the end of September 2020.

The health secretary argues that the last thing NHS staff need are "the frustrations of having to deal with outdated technology".

He said: "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.

"Email and mobile phones are a more secure, quicker and cheaper way to communicate which allows doctors and nurses to spend more time caring for patients rather than having to work round outdated kit."

An announcement from the Department of Health and Social Care said that pagers can "interrupt work, waste time, make the prioritisation of tasks difficult and the evidence trail of communications is limited".

They add that mobile phones and apps are able to support the sharing of information between staff on the move more quickly and at a reduced cost.

The Counterclaim

However, Wired's Nicole Kobie calls Hancock's plans to purge NHS pagers "pretty dumb", arguing that the health secretary's plans are "shaky at best".

She argues that pagers can save lives, and old technology really does work in this instance. When Hancock made the announcement, it was met by NHS workers turning to social media, listing why pagers work:

"A deputy director of nursing at one trust explained that mobiles are banned in plenty of care situations; a registrar said plenty of staff don't want to use their own personal phone for workl while others pointed out that pagers have longer battery life, meaning they don't need to be recharged mid-shift."

Kobie also notes that hospitals are "notorious WiFi and mobile not-spots". Pagers, on the other hand, run on dedicated radio frequency networks that can "better penetrate buildings".

She explains how pagers are used in hospitals: "First, for general communications – getting the attention of a consultant, answering a quick question, sharing details of a patient, and so on – but also for so-called cardiac bleeps, urgent alerts that send consultants running."

The Facts

More than one in 10 of the world's pagers are used by the NHS. According to a report compiled by digital solutions company Common Time, the health service uses around 130,000 pagers at an annual cost of £6.6 million.

The NHS could save £2.7 million a year by replacing the pagers with mobile software, the report concluded.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that a single device can cost up to £400. This is because most mobile phone companies have phased out support for pagers - leaving only one provider in the UK.

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Health and Social Care Secretary bans pagers from the NHS

NHS trusts will be required to phase out pagers by the end of 2021. All hospitals will be expected to have plans and infrastructure in place to ensure this is possible by the end of September 2020.

Staff will instead use modern alternatives, such as mobile phones and apps. These can deliver more accurate 2-way communications at a reduced cost.

A pilot project at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust ( ) in 2017 saved junior doctors 48 minutes per shift and nurses 21 minutes on average.

The NHS uses around 130,000 pagers at an annual cost of £6.6 million.

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