The UK also falls out of love with pagers

UK falls out of love with pagers

Pagers cost the UK’s Health System Millions

This past September, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) reported that by simply replacing pagers, they could save £2.7 Million ($3.6 Million) per year. At present, the NHS spends almost £6.6 Million ($8.7 Million) supporting the under-performing service and staff want the NHS to find alternatives.

Shadow Communications in Healthcare

At present, there are approximately 130,000 pagers in use across the UK and they rest at the center of the NHS’s communication strategy. They are the way in which trauma teams, nurses and essentially all of the healthcare services in the country communicate.

At the same time that these pagers are being used, they are causing workflow inefficiencies and are running up against an aging network that makes pager communications difficult. This reality is highlighted by Vodafone which is scraping its pager network in the UK. As a result, many pageing towers will no longer be in service. So what is the healthcare community supposed to do?

Many practitioners and responders have instead come to rely on “Shadow Communications” to communicate with one another. Shadow communications refer to the rather large group of unsanctioned communication platforms that are used for messaging but lack the approval of the NHS. WhatsApp, for example is an app widely used by doctor and nursing teams to communicate due to its ease of use.

Problems with Shadow Communications

While Shadow Communications might seem innocuous at first, they present the same problems to healthcare institutions in the UK as they do in the US. The problem is that communications on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook lack encryption. Consequently, communications can easily enable patient information to enter the public domain.

According to a recent article:

Information Commissioners Office (ICO) reported 239 data security incidents in the NHS between June to October in 2016. Of these incidents, 65 instances – over 25% – involved unencrypted devices that were misplaced or stolen.

These data security incidents occurred when patient information was exchanged on unencrypted devices like pagers, WhatsApp or  other Shadow Communication devices.

Stay in place or innovate?

The failure of pagers in the UK to meet the alerting needs of practitioners is not without precedent. Many physicians, nurses and administrators in the US also experience the latency of pagers, their lack of immediacy and their inability to enable effective communications. Some hospitals in the US are trying to latch onto secure communication platforms. Similarly, the UK is looking to understand how they can achieve as similar success with pager alternatives.

The governing bodies of the NHS have come to realize that they must adopt pager replacement technologies in order to ensure a proper and technologically advanced communications system. It seems that pager alternatives are being used with or without the NHS’ blessing. The NHS could have much better control of the communications used by practitioners if they made a decision to adopt a secure messaging technology which met their staff’s needs for immediacy, robustness and flexibility.


The lack of efficacy which pagers demonstrate in the UK highlights why healthcare across the globe needs to move away from pagers for critical healthcare communications.  As pagers become less and less used by the critical messaging community, the upkeep of towers and infrastructure to support the pagers diminishes as well. Less support for fewer towers inevitably means that critical messages will be dropped.

To learn more about the problems with pagers in the U.S. healthcare system, download our whitepaper: Why Pagers Suck.