Matt Hancock launches plan for the most-advanced health and care system in the world

Technology vision the foundation for a new generation of digital services

Outdated and obstructive NHS IT systems will become a thing of the past, Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said as he launched his technology vision in The Future of Healthcare.

His vision transforms NHS technology to allow appropriate access to real-time data and will underpin the digital services and data innovations needed.

These robust standards will ensure every part of the NHS can use the best technology to improve patient safety, reduce delays and speed up appointments

It outlines plans to introduce minimum technical standards that digital services and IT systems in the NHS will have to meet.

Having these open standards in place means systems will be able to talk to each other securely and will ensure they are upgradable.

Any system that fails to meet these standards will be phased out and the government will look to end contracts with providers who do not understand these principles for the health and care sector.

Outside those standards, all trusts and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) will have the freedom to buy what they need. This should encourage competition on user experience and better tools for everyone.

Hancock said: “The tech revolution is coming to the NHS.

I hope that, with winter pressures looming, he continues to bang the drum for digital and that we can leverage the NHS’s sheer size to build the world’s-best HealthTech sector

“These robust standards will ensure every part of the NHS can use the best technology to improve patient safety, reduce delays and speed up appointments.

“A modern technical architecture for the health and care service has huge potential to deliver better services and to unlock our innovations.

“We want this approach to empower the country’s best innovators – inside and outside the NHS – and we want to hear from staff, experts and suppliers to ensure our standards will deliver the most-advanced health and care service in the world.”

Dr Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer for Health and Care at NHS England, added: “Investing in excellent digital systems means patients can access the best and safest treatment pathways available, as swiftly as possible at the best value for taxpayers.

“This, combined with our plan to use technology to improve existing treatments and join up information across the NHS, will set the health service in England on track to be the world-leader in innovative healthcare.”

And Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive at NHS Digital, said: “Greater standardisation of data, infrastructure, platforms and APIs will create a health and care system that is more joined-up, and as a result safer and more efficient.

“Connected systems ensure that clinicians have immediate access to all relevant and appropriate patient data from all care providers and settings, and ensure that data is communicated between systems with absolute fidelity, eliminating misinformation and misunderstandings.

“In addition, we will increasingly be able to provide citizens and patients with direct and immediate access to their medical records.

“Everyone understands the value of this work, but progress in recent years has been limited. Today, responding to a direct challenge from the Secretary of State to transform the fortunes of this work, we are injecting a new level of energy and commitment.

“NHS Digital is providing a new clear framework to simplify the guidance on those standards that matter most.

Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services

“We are going to build the detailed guidance on these standards in partnership with technologists across the system and with industry partners.

“We recognise that the implementation journey is complex.

“Through consultation we will seek to understand in detail what the challenges are for different parties and throughout implementation we will focus on providing clear specifications, detailed guidance and extensive support.

“Our goal is to ensure successful implementation through engagement and facilitation, ensuring that changes that are mandated are reasonable and achievable.

“This work matters too much for any of us to shy away from the challenge.”

The announcement of widespread improvements in the use of technology within the sector has also been welcomed by solutions providers.

Speaking to BBH, Stephen Bourke, co-founder of Echo, said: “Hancock’s paper demonstrates that he ‘gets it’ and that we have a health minister who will put digital front and centre.

“Specifically, investment in infrastructure and interoperability are absolutely essential if we want innovation to work at scale.

“I hope that, with winter pressures looming, he continues to bang the drum for digital and that we can leverage the NHS’s sheer size to build the world’s-best HealthTech sector.”

An AI technologies will offer particularly-useful tools moving forward, added Mark Bridger, senior vice president of OpenText.

“Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services”, he said.

“While sci-fi films can distort the impact of AI technology, it’s time to stop viewing AI as an existential threat to our livelihoods and our health.

This, combined with our plan to use technology to improve existing treatments and join up information across the NHS, will set the health service in England on track to be the world-leader in innovative healthcare

“AI will transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation, but it cannot replace people.

“The true value of AI will be found in it working alongside humans to ease the pressure across the healthcare system as well as making our lives easier.

“By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, healthcare organisations can gain access to real-time information and sophisticated insights – empowering them to improve decision-making and deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of UK citizens.”

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