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Outdated health service IT ‘cost lives’ says health secretary

Matt Hancock outlines plan for a “tech-driven” NHS

Matt Hancock

‘Clunky’ IT systems in the NHS are costing lives, says health secretary Matt Hancock.

He unveiled a new plan to create a “tech-driven” health service at the NHS Innovation Expo in Manchester yesterday, claiming the NHS had the “world’s biggest opportunity for saving lives through modern technology”, but is currently a ‘frustrating’ place to work because of its IT shortcomings.

The health secretary says it is his ‘immediate priority’ to fix this issue and warns that “the gap between where we could be and where we are is wide and getting wider”.

He says hospitals operate on expensive, out-of-date technologies that aren't integrated, forcing staff to waste countless hours trying to work with broken systems, he says.

This ultimately leads to the loss of lives due to patients being given sub-optimal care because systems can’t communicate with each other.

Attempting to fix this issue, the self-confessed technophile has said that he doesn’t intend to implement one big data-collecting system for everyone, unlike the failed attempt back in the early 2000s, which resulted in a loss of millions of pounds.

Instead, he suggests imposing a “strict, mandated, open standards for interoperability of systems”.

“Only systems that talk to each other can be used. So this is what we are doing to do in the NHS,” he says.

Hancock also said he was “appalled” with horror stories he’s heard regarding IT suppliers and alleged blockages, and warned existing suppliers that if they don’t comply with the new standards then they won’t be supplying IT to the NHS.

These new standards, which will be based on the new Data Protection Act, will be published in the coming weeks, and will hone in on good-quality data management and improving privacy and security.

The former digital, culture, media and sport secretary has also earmarked £200m to extend the capability of NHS Digital, which will help to do away with big service contracts and implementing in-house teams that are ‘smarter’ at contracting.

Developing the NHS app

Boosting the digital revolution, Hancock also revealed that the NHS is developing its own one-stop-shop app, which will be launched across the nation by the end of this year.

Tested across five sites starting in Liverpool, the new app is aimed at allowing patients to book GP appointments, access the NHS 111 service and view their GP record.

Hancock says the new app will allow patients to interact with the NHS the same way they do their bank.

This new development stemmed from research published by pharma giant Roche, which showed that more than half of 16-24 year olds said they would prefer to receive GP advice online or via an app rather than face-to-face.

Hancock said: “We must respond to this change in expectations. This is just the beginning of the process. Patients who want to will feel the benefits of being able to access services through their fingertips, rather than needing to pick up the phone or physically walk into a GP surgery. It is a big step in making the NHS resemble the rest of the modern world around us.”

He also reassured anyone who are building their own products that the NHS has no intention in closing off the market, he added: “in fact we want exactly the opposite. We want to back innovations that can improve our NHS, wherever they can be found.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, welcomed the announcement.

"If we are honest we will admit that the NHS has been slow to grab the many advantages of the digital revolution," he said. "That has to change, and we all have to accept that it will challenge working practices and those who constantly find reasons why we should not adopt new ways of delivering care.

"We can create a service that is more responsive and adaptable, that will be more efficient and reach more people. As patients,  data is our friend not our enemy helping the health service devise better more targeted services.

"If we have secure systems that talk to each other we can achieve so much more. Genomics and AI will also transform what we do and how we do it."

Dickson said this revolution would require investment, but would also depend on NHS managers and clinicians championing the cause.

He added radical changes were needed not just in hospitals, but also in community and primary care, which would help in the drive towards the integration of health and social care.

Article by
Gemma Jones

7th September 2018

From: Healthcare

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