17 May 2024
by Louise Wall

Unleashing Innovation in Healthcare: How Automation is Transforming Cancer Care in the NHS

Guest blog from Louise Wall at e18 Innovation as part of our #UnleashInnovation campaign week 2024.

As the healthcare system continues to face challenges, particularly in cancer services, it is becoming increasingly clear that technology and automation have the potential to revolutionise the way we deliver care. In this blog post, we will explore how e18 Innovation is working with NHS trusts to streamline cancer pathways through intelligent automation, ultimately improving patient outcomes and enhancing operational efficiency. 

The Challenges Facing Cancer Services 

Under enormous pressure due a combination of rising demand, the need to close the outcomes gap with Europe, and the changing needs of the cancer population, cancer services in the NHS are currently facing significant challenges in meeting targets.[1] The target that 85% of patients should start treatment within 62 days of an urgent cancer referral has not been hit since 2015, and the UK is not on track to hit its long-term goal to see 75% of cancers diagnosed at stages 1 or 2 by 2028.[2] 

Failing to meet these targets has a considerable and direct impact on patient outcomes. Delays in diagnosis and treatment can lead to more advanced stages of cancer, reducing the chances of successful treatment and survival.  

NHS England recognises these challenges and is providing funding and support for initiatives such as diagnostic centres, surgical hubs, and intelligent automation to address the issue. 

The Power of Automation in Healthcare 

Automation has the potential to complement and augment the human workforce by handling high-volume, repetitive, and rules-based tasks, allowing staff to focus on more complex and patient-facing work. The benefits of automation include: 

  • 24/7 operation 

  • Increased speed and efficiency 

  • Improved accuracy 

  • Enhanced auditability 

By leveraging automation, healthcare organisations can streamline processes, reduce administrative burdens, and ultimately improve patient care. 

Case Study: Transforming Cancer Care in West Yorkshire 

e18 Innovation has been working in partnership with 52 NHS organisations across 17 Integrated Care Systems (ICS), from acute trusts, to community & mental health providers, and primary care networks to help bring intelligent automation solutions to the UK healthcare system. One of the most compelling examples of e18 Innovation's impact is the transformative work they have done with the West Yorkshire Cancer Alliance and a group of Acute trusts. Cancer remains a significant healthcare challenge in West Yorkshire and Harrogate, with 250 people being diagnosed with cancer every week, and 115 individuals losing their lives to this condition. Despite some progress, cancer outcomes in disadvantaged communities continue to lag, exacerbated by the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Intelligent Automation is a game-changer in the realm of cancer care. It can be applied to various aspects of the cancer care pathway, including referral processing, screening, diagnosis, triage, and treatments. This technology seamlessly integrates with Electronic Patient Record systems and Cancer Registers, ensuring maximum productivity and timely information sharing. Intelligent Automation plays a pivotal role in helping the NHS meet crucial cancer care targets. It aids in reducing waiting times and ensuring compliance with referral to treatment (RTT) standards. By automating manual tasks, such as tracking patients through complex care pathways and managing data across various clinical systems, Intelligent Automation enhances clinical outcomes. 

Lessons Learned from e18’s Successful Automation Implementation 

Engaging Clinicians in Automation Adoption 

One of the key lessons shared by Leeds Teaching Hospitals, another NHS trust that has successfully implemented automation, is the importance of engaging clinicians in the automation adoption process. By identifying their pain points and demonstrating how automation can help address these issues, healthcare organisations can gain the support of clinical staff. Sharing success stories and highlighting the benefits of automation can further encourage adoption. 

Prioritising Automation Projects 

When considering automation projects, healthcare organisations should prioritise initiatives based on factors such as: 

  • Scalability 

  • Benefits (time savings, improved safety, enhanced quality) 

  • Alignment with organisational objectives 

Establishing governance structures and engaging stakeholders throughout the process is crucial to ensure the success of automation projects. 

Overcoming Challenges 

Implementing automation in healthcare is not without its challenges. Some of the obstacles organisations may face include: 

  • Articulating benefits in terms of both time savings and financial impact 

  • Securing funding for automation projects 

  • Managing the pipeline of automation ideas from across the organisation 

To overcome these challenges, healthcare organisations can leverage resources like e18's automation community, which supports NHS organisations by sharing best practices, providing access to shared automation components, assisting with business cases and funding applications, and offering training to develop in-house capability. 

Innovation as the Route to Improved Care Outcomes 

As the NHS continues to face increasing demands and limited resources, embracing technology and automation is essential to ensure the sustainability and quality of healthcare services. By streamlining cancer pathways through automation, we can improve patient outcomes, reduce the burden on staff, and create a more efficient and effective healthcare system. e18 Innovation is committed to working with NHS trusts to harness the power of automation and drive positive change in cancer care delivery. Together, we can unleash innovation and build a brighter future for healthcare in the UK.  

[1] warning-signs-challenges-to-delivering-the-cancer-strategy-for-england-by-2020 (macmillan.org.uk) 

[2] Cancer services in England | Cancer Research UK 


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Louise Wall

Louise Wall

CEO, e18 Innovation