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Time to replace bleeps for good

By Dr Jo Garland, Clinical Director at Infinity Health



The NHS is facing some of the most significant pressures in its 75-year history.

With strikes; record A&E waiting times; chronic understaffing; and increased patient demand, it is more important than ever that NHS staff have the right tools to manage their workload, be more efficient, and release time to care for patients.

The challenge is that the NHS is reliant on inefficient legacy IT, which causes delays as staff have to battle with slow, multiple admin-intensive systems.

The lack of interoperability makes it difficult to access and share information, causing data silos and creating blockages.

Battle of the bleep

One outdated tool is the bleep. Bleeps have been in use for decades to alert clinicians to an action needed. They are sturdy, reliable, and don’t need WiFi.

The problem is that while they have a place in emergencies such as cardiac arrests and acute haemorrhages, they are an outdated and inefficient solution for non-emergency situations.

They lack detail and context, only offer one-way communication, and interrupt care as the receiver has to track down the bleep initiator.

A pre-pandemic study estimated that more than 10 per cent of the world’s bleeps are used by the NHS at a cost of over £6million a year.

2021 was supposed to be the year that bleeps were phased out across NHS England trusts with the ex-Health Secretary declaring a #purgethepager campaign.

But this hasn’t happened and bleeps are still widely in use across the NHS.

                             Dr Jo Garland

In a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and Clinical Innovations, junior doctors reported that 39 per cent of their bleeps went completely unanswered.

For SHOs and consultants that number rises to 55 per cent and 58 per cent respectively.

When they are bleeped and call to gather more information, junior doctors reported that the phone number they have been asked to call is engaged 39 per cent of the time, for SHOs it is 55 per cent of the time and consultants 47 per cent of the time.

What is the alternative?    

Any attempt to phase out bleeps is a significant task requiring a complex framework to set the plans in motion.

We know that some clinicians use instant messaging apps like WhatsApp for internal communication, but they are not integrated with hospital systems or covered by hospital security policies.

Clinical staff either have to compromise patient confidentiality by sharing detailed information about them over unapproved technologies, or maintain it by limiting those details, potentially compromising their safety.

A bleep is a task.

Therefore a task management system can ensure tasks are allocated to the right person, containing all the information in one place, with the speed of an integrated technology, and the safety and security of a hospital-supported system.

A dependable, fast internet connection must be a priority for trusts to compete with the reliability of bleeps. Trusts should also expect a solution to offer:

  • Single Sign On (SSO) for staff so they don’t waste time logging in to different systems
  • To be able to highlight the urgency of the task and when it needs to be completed by
  • To integrate with the PAS/EHR so staff can make informed decisions based on patient history and needs
  • Provide an audit trail of tasks so teams know who has done what, when, and who for
  • Visibility of team activity to encourage better team collaboration and fair allocation of tasks

Replacing non-emergency bleeps is an important part of modern healthcare but it needs to be with something that makes clinicians’ workload easier, is reliable, and offers a better and safer experience for patients.

Dr Jo Garland is Clinical Director at Infinity Health

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