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Health Secretary calls on NHS organisations to improve ‘downright dangerous’ IT systems

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, has announced a £200million investment in technology to bring the NHS into the 21st Century.

Speaking at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester, the minister said that the health service was ‘downright dangerous’ using IT systems that were putting lives at risk.

The government has already thrown billions at NHS tech, establishing a digital exemplar scheme in 2016, that handed money to trusts to help fund the development of new approaches that could then be shared among others.

Hancock has announced a further £200m for that scheme, with the aim of creating the first exemplars for community, alongside those for acute, mental health and ambulance trusts. He also announced a new NHS App, that will allow patients to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions, see their medical records and set data-sharing preferences, across five regions of England.

According to Hancock, “Like good tech elsewhere, we need technology that makes life easier for hard-working and often overstretched staff. We need technology that can run basic tasks and processes more efficiently.”

We can all welcome that ambition because, as it stands, far too many hospitals operate multiple systems, none of which talk to one another. Add to that complexity the fact that GP practices, social care, pharmacies and community care providers are all using different systems and too many of them are reliant on antiquated ones, whether that’s fax machines or simply pen & paper note taking, where systems are unable to talk to one another, is it any wonder that IT systems in our health service are perceived as failing?

“Like good tech elsewhere, we need technology that makes life easier for hard-working and often over-stretched staff.”

Whatever the benefits, however, the NHS has an appalling record of implementing schemes associated with implementing new technology - from the National Programme for IT, which cost £11billion, and was scrapped in 2011 to efforts to create a paperless 2018, the record is far from impressive.

Hancock says that it’s time to put those failures ‘behind’ us and to be fair, rather than the top down approach taken in the past, this scheme looks to impose open, bottom-up standards to ensure interoperability, privacy and security.

There will be those who say that we should be spending limited resources on more doctors, nurses and new equipment, but £200million is a tiny sum in a healthcare budget worth £140billion. If handled correctly, it could deliver a return out of all proportion to its relatively small size.

Neil Tyler

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