£4bn funding boost to digitise the NHS

Announcement expected that will pave the way for a paperless health service

A whopping £4billion will be spent on improving the use of technology within the NHS over the next five years, it has been revealed.

The cash will help to realise the Government’s vision of a paperless NHS, improving the speed of diagnoses and enhancing services across the country.

There is no doubt that technology can play a significant role in meeting these objectives, but new technology innovations are placing existing NHS infrastructure under pressure, both in terms of IT systems and people

Expected to be announced shortly by Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt; the cash will be spend on introducing systems that enable patients to book services and order prescriptions online, access apps and digital tools, and choose to speak to their doctor online or via a video link.

Full details of the funding are still being agreed between the Department of Health and NHS England, but are expected to include:

  • £1.8billion to create a paper-free NHS and remove outdated technology like fax machines
  • £1billion on cyber security and data consent
  • £750m to transform out-of-hospital care, medicines and digitise social care and emergency care
  • About £400m to build a new website - nhs.uk - develop apps and provide free wi-fi

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Hunt said: "We know that proper investment in IT - it's not without its pitfalls - can save time for doctors and nurses and means they can spend more time with patients.”

As part of its digital drive, the government wants at least 10% of patients to use computers, tablets or smartphones to access GP services by March 2017.

At the end of last year, Hunt said free wi-fi would also be provided in all NHS buildings in England, but a deadline has still not been set.

The announcement comes after recent research from YouGov and Trustmarque found the NHS is currently struggling to meet its digital milestones.

Key findings included:

  • When asked, 96% of British adults either didn’t have online access to their records, or didn’t know if they did
  • 40% of adults didn’t think they were currently able to make a GP, hospital consultation or hospital test appointment online
  • More than two-thirds (68%) of UK citizens believe the NHS could and should use technology more in order to improve patient outcomes and the overall patient experience

Angelo Di Ventura, director of Trustmarque, said: “The NHS is under constant pressure to reduce costs while at the same time ensuring clinical excellence.

“There is no doubt that technology can play a significant role in meeting these objectives, but new technology innovations are placing existing NHS infrastructure under pressure, both in terms of IT systems and people. At the same time NHS-wide initiatives, such as the drive towards the ‘paperless’ NHS, are further adding to the load. However, it is clear that UK adults want greater access to digital healthcare services and in the long-run this promises to increase efficiencies and improve patient care.”

Responding to the announcement, Phil Sorsky, vice president of wireless for Europe at CommScope, warned that Wi-Fi improvements must be carefully thought out and delivered. He said: “The NHS can only become a truly-digital organisation if health professionals and patients can connect instantly to access data and book services online. That’s why it’s vital that all NHS buildings are properly equipped with technology to ensure consistency of connectivity, whether that’s in the waiting room or the accident and emergency department.

This is a great opportunity for the NHS to move beyond simply becoming ‘paper-free’ and to embrace the greater benefits open to health providers and patients in a digital world

“While we, of course, welcome this investment in Wi-Fi, it is always critical that doctors and healthcare staff have access to cellular coverage in hospitals, so that, where it’s safe to do so, they can connect with staff and resolve issues in real-time and without delay.

“Without universal connectivity across all NHS buildings, the benefits of new applications and digitised records cannot be full realised.”

Mark Bridger, vice president of sales for Northern Europe at OpenText, an Enterprise Information Management (EIM) company, told BBH : “The recent announcement demonstrates a welcome commitment to improving the efficiency of the NHS, but removing the burden of paper. However, this is a great opportunity for the NHS to move beyond simply becoming ‘paper-free’ and to embrace the greater benefits open to health providers and patients in a digital world.

“A comprehensive digital transformation plan will enable secure access to patient records, quick sharing of data between GPs and hospitals, marked improvements in efficiency, and better management of information from unstructured clinical records. In this way, NHS staff would be empowered to work productively – with quick access to correct data – in order to improve patient care.”

Without universal connectivity across all NHS buildings, the benefits of new applications and digitised records cannot be full realised

And Shane Tickle, chief executive of IMS Maxims, added: “The funding commitment by the UK government identifies electronic records as an area for investment. This is key, firstly in helping to free up precious time for clinicians to spend with patients to improve the quality of consultations, diagnosis and treatment. But it also lays the groundwork for much-needed innovation in the NHS, too.”

“The urgency to adopt technology has increased in recent times as our health system struggles to cope with demand for services and as patients’ expectations change rapidly.

“I recall the Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman, stating last September that ‘despite almost 60% of adults in the UK owning a smartphone, we know only 2% of the population has had some kind of digitally-enabled interaction with NHS’. This needs to change and innovation cannot be stifled.”

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