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NHS must train staff to harness new technologies coming into healthcare

Genomics, data analytics and artificial intelligence must become prominent elements of the undergraduate curricula for healthcare professionals.

That’s the conclusion of the Topol Review, published this week, which was commissioned by the government to provide an independent review into the digital training needs of NHS staff.

The final report said that the UK has the potential to become a world leader in healthcare technologies and that these would affect the way doctors and other clinicians work.

The review – by Dr Eric Topol, the Californian cardiologist, geneticist, and digital medicine expert – offers insight into the technologies and developments that will change clinical roles.

But, more importantly, how staff can be prepared for that change and the role of education and training in making that a reality.

The technologies mentioned include genomics, digital medicine, artificial intelligence and robotics.

Responding to the report, Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “The way we care for patients is set to be transformed by a wave of exciting new technologies. From advances in robot-assisted surgery and virtual reality, to developments in genomics and artificial intelligence, the doctor’s toolkit is expanding exponentially.

“With so much technological change on the horizon, it is clear that the skills we equip our NHS workforce with, as well as the way we train them, will need to undergo a transformation too.”

The review says the adoption of technology should be used to give healthcare staff more time to care and interact directly with patients – rather than simply as a cost saving exercise.

Harry Evans, researcher at The King’s Fund, said: “At a time when staff have never been more stretched, technology has an important role to play in making life easier for over-burdened nurses, doctors and other staff, freeing them up to focus on supporting patients.

“As well as training staff to use technology, new systems should be designed to reduce the daily pressures facing NHS workers.”

An understanding of genomics, data analytics and artificial intelligence must become part of the educational curriculum for healthcare professionals, the review says.

Prof Alderson said: “In my own specialty, it’s plain to see that the surgeons of the future will need to understand genomics, learn how to correctly acquire and handle tissue for DNA testing, and then also support their patients to understand what that test results mean for their health.

“The report touches on the benefit of systematically implementing robotics in the NHS but does not make any specific recommendations for achieving this. The RCS believes the location of surgical robots needs to be much better planned in the future to balance equity of access across the country and cost effectiveness. We would like to see NHS England lead a robotics strategy to help the NHS plan and purchase new surgical robotics systems.”

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