Outpatients could have video consultations in UK’s 5G pilot

Hospital outpatients could have emergency consultations with fast and reliable video links under plans to introduce a fifth-generation (5G) mobile network in the UK’s West Midlands.

The region has been selected to become the world’s first multi-city 5G test bed, with a series of projects set to begin next year, paving the way for a roll-out of the technology across the country.

5G mobile technology allows for download speeds of 20 gigabytes per second – 20 times faster than 4G networks and faster than existing home networks.

The government announced that the Urban Connected Communities Project will develop a large-scale 5G pilot across the region, with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

Up to £50m is currently available for the project, subject to further development and approval of the business plan.

This includes £25m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and a further £25m match funding from regional partners. An additional £25m may be made available at a later stage.

Subject to approval, initial plans allow for digital technologies where hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations are carried out by remote video link, without droppage or latency barriers.

As well as being more convenient for patients, they will be able to play back their appointment at a later date, or share it securely with a family member or carer to help inform their care.

There are also plans for “connected ambulances”, where paramedic crews at an incident could access specialist advice while they are at the scene, such as a video conference with consultants or other clinical specialists.

It will also allow live streaming of patient data from ambulances en route to hospital to inform the immediate care patients receive on arrival at hospital.

Outside of health, the technology could allow testing of driverless cars through a partnership with Jaguar Land Rover, which could transform travel and prevent accidents.

DCMS funding for the project will come from the £200 million the government has assigned to develop 5G technologies as part of more than £1bn of investment in next-generation digital infrastructure, including via the £31bn National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

Minister of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Margot James said: “5G has the potential to dramatically transform the way we go about our daily lives, and we want the citizens of the UK to be amongst the first to experience all the opportunities and benefits this new technology will bring.”

“The West Midlands Testbed, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be instrumental in helping us realise this ambition.”

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