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    Healthcare and local government to lose out if 5G not rolled out rapidly, Vodafone warns

    Research commissioned by Vodafone has found that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) will lose out on £1bn of savings every year if 5G is not rolled out quickly across the UK. Local councils also stand to miss out on significant savings, with 5G-enabled technologies having the potential to reduce social care spending by 5%.

    On top of the £40 million 5G Innovation Regions funding currently available to councils, this would help plug the existing gap in social care funding.

     The findings, calculated by WPI Economics, come as projections show that the ageing UK population will put an increasing strain on the NHS and social services in the years to come, with £79bn of public spending required to meet these needs. 5G-enabled technologies will be essential in addressing these challenges.

    The 5G network will enable more patient care to be delivered remotely. For patients at home, 5G will enable high quality and high-speed video connections, enabling doctors to deliver quality care quickly and efficiently. This will empower people to better manage their health, allowing them to live independently for longer and could prevent people from needing additional care either in the home or in non-residential settings.

    The NHS has already recognised the importance of this technology for bringing down waiting times and reducing hospital stays, and is due to introduce remote care for 10,000 patients from September of this year.

    Within care homes, residents and staff will also stand to benefit from 5G rollout. Monitoring via sensors could help staff monitor residents in real time, improving care and alleviating staff burnout. Between care providers and hospitals, data transmission becomes easier, faster and more secure.

    Trials have shown that these innovative measures could save £296,000 per 100 users per year, equivalent to nearly £1bn based on the current number of users of public social care services. With this number set to increase by 61% by 2038, the rollout of 5G could save up to £17.5bn over the same period. However, these savings will not materialise unless nationwide 5G is rolled out quickly.

     Speedy national 5G rollout is a necessary condition for delivering savings to both the NHS and local councils. Vodafone’s merger with Three will enable the new network to invest billions in the UK and support 5G-enabled improvements in public services.

    Stephen Hammond MP, former Minister of State for Health, says: “As the NHS continues to grapple with tighter budgets and increasing demand, the need to modernise health care delivery becomes ever more necessary. This research underlines the importance of seizing innovative solutions like 5G-enabled technology. The potential for remote consultations and in-home health monitoring to improve efficiency and health outcomes will be transformative. With thoughtful implementation, 5G presents an immense opportunity to deliver savings, and build the NHS we need for the future.”

    Ahmed Essam, CEO of Vodafone UK, comments: “5G technology has the potential to transform how health and social care is delivered in this country and unlock £1bn of annual savings for the NHS. 5G will support breakthroughs like at-home health scanning, personal devices, and real-time access to medical expertise – innovations that will drive better health outcomes. To fully capture this potential, we need to rapidly build nationwide 5G coverage.”

    The real health benefits?

    While the figures are no doubt correct, Vodafone does have something of vested interest in pushing the need for a rapid roll out of 5G. It’s proposed merger with Three UK is predicated on the two companies jointly being able to corner the 5G market in the country and, while they are pledging to invest up to £11bn over 10 years to create the best 5G network in Europe, it still has to persuade government and regulators that the merger is good for the consumer.

    According to Essam: “Our proposed merger with Three UK will give us the scale to accelerate investment in digital infrastructure, allowing everyone to see the benefits of 5G rollout faster.”

    And what better way than to show how it can save the beleaguered NHS and local councils money? Nothing is more emotive in the UK than the NHS and local resources and the prospect that 5G can be a force for good here is a powerful message.

    However, convincing the powers that be that it will also deliver for the telecoms industry as well as offering broad societal benefits is perhaps a tougher sell.

    The merger is hoped to close before the end of 2024, subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals. The deal is likely to face close scrutiny from competition regulators, although last year the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, changed its long-held stance, saying it was now more open to consolidation in the sector. It had previously argued that dropping to only three networks in a country could harm consumers.

    In 2016 the CMA and the European Commission blocked Three’s attempted takeover of O2, arguing that it would have risked higher prices.

    The government is also likely to “call in” the deal for scrutiny under the National Security and Investment Act 2021, which allow ministers to block transactions linked to important national assets if they are deemed to harm national security, as Vodafone UK has a number of government contracts.

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