Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced earlier this week that more than £4 billion will be invested to bring modern technology into the NHS. It is thought that £1.8bn will be set aside to digitise records, removing the reliance on paper and outdated technology such as fax machines while £1bn will be spent on cyber security and data consent, £750m will be used to transform out-of-hospital care, medicine and to digitise social and emergency care. An estimated £400bn will be used to build a new website, develop apps and provide free wi-fi.
Jeremy Hunt told the BBC that doctors find it “frustrating” dealing with paperwork and bureaucracy and that the investment could “save time for doctors and nurses”.
Bringing modern technology into the NHS will allow patients to book services and order prescriptions online and to speak to their doctor by video link or online. Patients will also be able to monitor their health from home, which could help people with conditions such as hypertension, cancer and diabetes. Patients will have access to their electronic records, which can be shared between health professionals to reduce the time spent explaining medical history.
Such measures should ease the pressure on GPs and help the NHS meet its pledge to make efficiency savings.
Bob Watcher, author of ‘The Digital Doctor’, will be leading a major review into the use of technology in the NHS. He has begun by visiting hospital trusts and speaking to professionals. Mr Watcher says that hospitals are failing to adapt to the 21st century and that: “There is a lot of paper floating around, and that’s unhealthy.” He noted that in GP clinics “the implementation of digital patient records has gone quite well, but it has been ‘much spottier’ in hospitals”. He found that doctors in some hospitals are having to double up on the amount of work they are doing, as they are still using paper as well as digital tools. He told The Telegraph that the network is “too slow” and doctors and nurses are “not as technology savvy” as they need to be.
Training will clearly have to be provided and investment needs to be made in computers. However, Mr Watcher also said that “it is not unreasonable to believe that by 2020 the system can be essentially digital.” His report will be published in June 2016.
Alison Appelboam Meadows, a partner in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “The move to bring modern technology into the NHS could be highly beneficial in many areas but digitising sensitive information is not without risk and cyber security will be vital here. Consideration must also be given to patients who are not technology savvy and without internet access to ensure they receive the same level of service and access to health services.”