Debate: Robots

That this meeting of RCN Congress discusses the issues involved in the potential role of robots in health and social care.

Debate continued from 14 May 

Robots are already serving various tasks in the field of medicine and surgery. The scope of surgical and rehabilitation robots mean they are poised to become one of the most important innovations of this century. Robots have the potential of filling identified gaps in current telehealth, home and self care provision.

A hybrid assistive limb (HAL) is a wearable appliance that has allowed post-stroke patients to exercise without the need for environmental support during rehabilitation. Nao – programmable humanoid robots produced by Aldebaran Robotics – can support a number of different human/robot interaction tasks to improve the medical conditions of patients in hospital and home care environments. Courier robots can bring food, encouraging patients to eat. Home care assistance robots can improve the quality of life in an ageing society. Relevant tasks were identified and robotic technology developed to provide priority support for older people such as domestic chores and housework.

Human-size ‘persuasive’ robots can be used to motivate patients to perform self-care tasks, such as eating healthy diets and exercise. Robocat can provide company for lonely, frail and elderly patients in their own home as pets. Robocat can remind their elderly owner to eat their meals, take their medication on time and locate lost items such as spectacles.

Humanoid robots act as a conduit for socialising, enabling friends and family to engage with the user remotely. The mere presence of robots increased social interaction and reduced stress of residents in a care home. Robot therapy improves the social and communication skills of children with autismspectrum disorders. Robots have effectively improved the wellbeing of children having marrow bone transplants, whilst confined alone in an immunocompromised state. These small robots are robust and are ideal companions for the children, who develop a personal relationship with the robot which answers questions about their care.

Research published by PWC shows how willing people in the UK are to accept artificial intelligence (AI) in health and care settings (PWC, 2018). They report that men (46%) are more willing to engage with AI than women (32%). Younger generations are more open to the idea: 55% of 18-24 year olds are willing to engage, dropping to 33% for the over-55s.

There is a geographical split too, with 52% of people in Wales, 47% in Scotland and just 38% in England willing to accept AI in these settings. The rural nature of much of Wales, and the resulting need for innovation to improve access to health care services, may be a reason for the higher levels of acceptance here. In February, the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee published their inquiry report on technology and innovation in health and social care (Scottish Parliament, 2017), highlighting issues to be addressed in realising the wider use of technology. RCN Scotland submitted evidence to the Committee focusing on community services, and jointly submitted a statement with primary care professional organisations setting out principles for a technologyenabled health and social care service. A new Scottish Government Digital Health and Care Strategy is due for publication this year.

While much robot technology is still developmental, the commercial application of robots in industry is well established and robotic technology in medical, health and social care is rapidly catching up. The challenges posed by robots in care settings, such as safety, patient acceptance, reliability and appropriate personalisation, warrant discussion. 


View all of the Congress debates.

Main Auditorium
Belfast Waterfront
2 Lanyon Place

15 May 2018 09:15 - 09:30

Main Auditorium, Belfast Waterfront, 2 Lanyon Place, Belfast, BT1 3WH

Matter for discussion, submitted by the RCN North Yorkshire Branch

Page last updated - 05/09/2018