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Public Sector is Addicted to Paper

Published on 02 October 2013
The Government Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has challenged the NHS to become paper-free and switch to an entirely digital system by 2018. The main lure is the claim that the government could save up to £70 billion by 2020 if it adopts a paperless system, but how likely is it that the public sector will ever go completely digital?
Shocking Statistics
Considering the reliance our supposedly modern public sector has on paper, it seems unlikely that things will change in the near future. The DVLA receives two lorry loads full of letters and paperwork each morning, whilst the Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for printing one million sheets of paper every single day.
The statistics are shocking, and if they represent a general culture of paper usage in the public sector, then it’s going to take longer than five years for the NHS to adopt an entirely paperless system.
In 1975, an article in the American Business Week predicted the paperless offices of the future. Evidently, offices are largely digital now, but paperless they are not. In fact, over the last 10 years, global office paper consumption has increased, despite the huge technological developments that we have witnessed.
The statistics prove that the public sector is no different, and like most offices, rather than solely using computers, they’re still making use of shredding and recycling in order to keep working environments clutter-free.
How Practical Could a Paperless System Be?
That said, as long as offices are doing their best to recycle paper, is there really a problem with non-digital systems? No doubt all offices that are still using paper in some form also use digital records too, and in some cases, this combined system could be for the better in terms of efficiency and practicality.
In some cases, it’s not always practical for everything to be digital. For example, in hospitals, is it really that practical for nurses to be carrying around iPads rather than small notepads tucked in their pocket? On a much wider scale, it might be beneficial for the NHS to adopt a paperless system, but away from processing offices, on the wards themselves, a paperless system is going to take a long time to develop in terms of practicalities.
Whether we’ll ever see the UK’s public sector become entirely paper-free is yet to be seen, but it’s certainly going to take longer than five years to eradicate the use of paper throughout the entire NHS.

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