In a bid to cut costs, time is running out for NHS pagers: medical staff have been asked to stop using them in the next two years. However, while the Health Secretary wants to replace outdated technology in the NHS, many doctors disagree: they think the reliable, fast pager service still has a role, especially in emergencies.
A history of pagers and the NHS
Before mobile phones and text messaging as prevalent forms of communication, the pager was a popular messaging device of the 1980s. The ones used by today’s NHS can receive brief messages (for example, a short line of text or a number to call) with no option for a direct reply – responses require a landline or mobile. Messages are sent by calling a service operator or automated system, and are then directed to the recipient’s device.
The NHS has approximately 10% of the pagers still used across the world, roughly 130,000 in total. This costs nearly £7 million each year, a figure not helped by there being only one pager service (Capita’s PageOne) still operational in the UK. Vodafone previously ran a pager network but closed it in 2018.
Yet it’s still popular among NHS staff, who appreciate its reliability, speed and widespread coverage. This makes it especially helpful in an emergency, for example having the ability to page multiple team members to respond to a medical situation when speed is of the essence.
What will replace pagers?
Replacing pagers is part of a wider initiative to update technology across the NHS, including computers and medical refrigeration, and phasing out fax machines. Firms such as Fridge Freezer Direct provide medical refrigeration options, one example of where having the latest equipment will lead to cost savings in the long term.
While mobile phones and email have been suggested as a more cost-effective solution, hospital phone and wi-fi coverage is often unreliable, not to mention the concern that mobiles can cause issues with other medical equipment. Some hospitals have run trials with medical-specific secure messaging apps, enabling staff to communicate one-on-one or as groups from devices such as tablets and desktop computers as well as phones. While this technology will eventually replace pagers in most situations, there still might be an emergency role for a service that while old, does a reliable job.