Scottish technology could help ease NHS backlog pressures

Scottish-developed simulation technology could help to reduce NHS waiting list backlogs by improving efficiencies across healthcare settings.

Glasgow-based software specialist, Simul8, is working with NHS Boards and Trusts on process optimisation initiatives, ranging from patient scheduling in oncology units to patient flow through fertility departments, modelling maternity services, and optimising trauma and orthopaedic wards.

An ageing population, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread industrial action were just some of the reasons why waiting lists hit an all-time high in September 2023, when approximately 7.8 million people were waiting for hospital treatment.

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According to the latest NHS England data, as of March 2024, that figure is down to 7.5 million people waiting but 43% of those have been on a list for more than 18 weeks.

Scottish-developed technology is helping combat the UK’s patient backlog in busy NHS hospital waiting roomsScottish-developed technology is helping combat the UK’s patient backlog in busy NHS hospital waiting rooms
Scottish-developed technology is helping combat the UK’s patient backlog in busy NHS hospital waiting rooms

Supporting the NHS is a top priority for the new government, and Simul8 is offering a solution to the backlog crisis in the form of simulation-powered "digital twins". It has already been working with Trusts and healthcare providers across the UK to optimise processes and improve patient wait times.

Laura Reid, CEO at Simul8, said: “Our healthcare system is under extreme pressure and millions of people are waiting for potentially lifesaving treatments. Sadly, there’s no silver bullet to solving the backlog issue but we should be using every available option to improve the situation.

"Technology has a critical role to play in the future of healthcare in the UK. Our software is already making a difference and we’re extremely proud of that, but we want to do more. Simulation-powered digital twins remove bottlenecks and improve efficiency, which is exactly what the system needs.”

Simulation-powered digital twins offer a new approach to decision-making. They live alongside real world systems and provide a testing ground for decision-making.

Hundreds of simulations can be tried and tested each day to find the best course of action in a cost-effective way. In an environment like a hospital, where situations can change at a moment’s notice, this technology is vital in deciding where resources should be allocated to ensure the system isn’t overburdened and struggling to meet capacity.

For example, one project run by change management specialists, Changeology, used Simul8’s simulation-powered digital twins to redesign a patient scheduling system for a cancer care unit.

Simul8’s technology helped the unit save £15,000 a month and more importantly reduced patient wait times by over 50% and improved nursing staff's experiences. The results were so impressive that it received a Health Service Journal (HSJ) Silver Award for Best Healthcare Analytics Project for the NHS.

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The technology is also helping to optimise processes for IVF treatment and cardiovascular surgery at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. The Trust uses the software to analyse staffing levels, the number of procedures in each process and the equipment and people needed to complete them in the desired timeframe. It enables senior leaders to plan resources effectively which leads to an enhanced quality of service and better patient outcomes.

Laura continued: “Healthcare is a topic close to my heart. It’s where I started my career and to think our technology is helping solve some of the issues the system faces fills me with pride.

"The beauty of what we offer is that it removes risk. Making changes to the simulation does not affect real life or have financial implications. It’s a test environment, enabling stakeholders to determine the best way to improve processes that can be transitioned to the live environment and benefit patients.”

Simul8’s work within the healthcare sector is a blueprint for other trusts to build stronger business cases for change. Its technology not only improves waiting times but can also be applied to common issues such as bed management, patient flow and long-term care.

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