£260m fund to increase use of technology in hospitals

Government announces moneypot to roll out electronic health records and e-Prescribing solutions

The fund will help the NHS to become paperless by 2018

A £260m fund has been announced to encourage greater use of technology in hospitals.

The cash comes after the publication of the Francis Report into the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which called on the NHS to make better use of technology to improve safe, effective care.

If we are to improve patient safety then we must allow the NHS to have access to the best tools available and this fund will help them achieve that

Last year at least 11 people died in the NHS because they were given the wrong prescriptions. This fund will be used to increase the use of technology that will help stop drugs being prescribed incorrectly because patients’ notes have been lost.

Errors in prescriptions are present in as many as 8% of hospital prescriptions and studies have shown that the use of technology can cut these errors by half.

The fund will also help protect patients by ensuring that doctors and nurses are able to access accurate details about the care of individuals, and it will make a patient’s journey through different parts of the NHS much safer because their electronic record will follow them wherever they go.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “This fund will allow doctors and nurses to make the NHS safer by harnessing the very latest technology.

“In many places right now a paramedic picking up a frail elderly woman who has had a fall will not always know she has dementia because he or she cannot access her notes. Or a doctor is prescribing the wrong drugs because they don’t know what drugs their patient is already on.

“If we are to improve patient safety then we must allow the NHS to have access to the best tools available and this fund will help them achieve that.”

This new fund will help patients get better and safer care by giving clinicians access to the right information when they need it most

The fund will be used by hospitals to replace outdated paper-based systems for patient notes and prescriptions, and is a critical stepping-stone in helping the NHS go digital by 2018.

It will be primarily used for ‘electronic prescribing’ - which means computer-generated prescriptions sent by doctors directly to pharmacies linked to barcodes unique to each patient. This kind of technology plays a huge part in cutting errors and improving safety.

Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information within NHS England, said: “We are delighted to be working with the NHS, Department of Health colleagues and frontline NHS staff to ensure that this fund enables the NHS to make substantial progress towards routine use of high-quality data at the point of care.”

The fund will also be used for creating electronic systems, linked to patient records, that talk to each other right across hospitals. These will be similar to the solution already used at St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust, which has all of its patient records accessible online for doctors and nurses at the click of a mouse. Another example is the system at the New Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where an online ‘portal’ allows patients to view and update their own medical records so doctors can get instant, real-time updates.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England, said: “This new fund will help patients get better and safer care by giving clinicians access to the right information when they need it most.

Expanding the use of electronic prescribing of medications in hospitals will help improve safety, save lives and save taxpayers’ money

“Supporting hospitals to replace outdated paper systems for notes and prescriptions will help relieve patients’ frustration at having to repeat their medical and medication history over and over again, often in the same hospital, because their records aren’t available.

“Expanding the use of electronic prescribing of medications in hospitals will help improve safety, save lives and save taxpayers’ money.”

NHS hospitals can bid for the money to fund projects, but in order to be eligible, they must demonstrate that the interventions will lead to better, safer care.

Technology suppliers have reacted positively to the news, but say the groundwork needs to be done to support the rollout of the technologies.

Mark Curtis, chief client officer at digital services expert, Fjord, said: “The new electronic system for the NHS is poised to address patient needs in a way that paper cannot, but it’s not as simple as just ‘going digital’ as doctors are increasingly disconnected with electronic health records (EHRs).

Currently EHRs are not optimised to help doctors get a quick and accurate overview of patients’ health patterns and the NHS would do well to take a design-led approach to the digitisation of its system, building in feedback from doctors in order to make the service more usable and ultimately to aid the delivery of healthcare across the UK.

“Reports show that medication errors are not uncommon and with so much data now available, it’s no surprise that doctors are caught in a deluge of information. Through clear visual representation of complex data, this information can be understood and digested more easily, cutting down on human error.”

The announcement of funding appears to have come at the right time, after recent research by Accenture revealed that the proportion of trusts routinely using electronic tools such as e-Billing and e-Scheduling to reduce administrative burden dropped from 36% in 2011 to 29% last year.

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