The NHS could free up frontline time worth up to £12.5 billion a year by fully embracing automation, such as employing robots at the bed side and care bots in the home, according to a new report led by former health minister Lord Darzi.

A further £6 billion productivity gain could be generated with greater automation within social care, where 30 percent of tasks could be carried out by adopting new technology, according to the findings, released by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR).

Communicating medical notes, booking appointments and processing prescriptions are among tasks that should be carried out through digital technology, the report suggests, but also envisages a future in which robots and artificial-intelligence based systems play a key role in assessing, treating and supporting clinical practice, freeing up more time for clinicians to focus on direct patient care.

Lord Darzi notes AI systems are already able to undertake some surgical tasks such as tying knots and making stitches with greater accuracy than humans, and that such developments are set to accelerate and expand in the coming years.

‘Bedside robots’ could also become a reality, he says, helping patients with meals, transportation and portering, and rehabilitation, while digital systems will enhance communication with friends and family, and biosensors will allow the remote monitoring and alerting responses to clinical observations.

According to the report, ‘care-bots’ in the home would enable older people to live better, longer, and more fulfilling lives and, alongside digital systems, will enable people to remain more socially connected to friends and family, the report will say.

“The NHS turns 70 this year but we must turn our sights to the future. We should not accept an analogue NHS in a digital decade,” Lord Darzi said, and called on the government to embrace a strategy aimed at delivering “full automation” for repetitive and administrative tasks in health and care.

The report is to be published in full later this month.