Health

NHS to get £4bn in drive for 'paperless' health service

  • 7 February 2016
  • From the section Health
Media captionHealth Secretary Jeremy Hunt: "Investment in IT can save time for doctors and nurses"

The government has launched its latest attempt to improve the use of technology in the NHS in England.

The aim is to create a paperless service that would be more convenient for patients, and help doctors to provide faster diagnoses.

More than £4bn has been set aside for areas such as electronic records and online appointments, prescriptions and consultations.

But Labour said the NHS was "going backwards" under the Conservatives.

Video-link

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

  • £1.8bn to create a paper-free NHS and remove outdated technology like fax machines
  • £1bn 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

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said doctors found filling out paperwork and bureaucracy "so frustrating".

"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," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

The aim is to allow 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.

Real-time data

Examples of NHS-accredited apps include one developed by young people to help prevent self-harm, and another that can help care home workers identify the early signs of dementia among residents.

Through the funding, everyone will have access to their own electronic health record, which will be shared between professionals so patients will no longer have to repeat their medical history.

Patients will also be given the opportunity to upload and send real-time data to medical professionals on long-term conditions such as blood pressure.

By 2020, it is hoped that a quarter of patients with long-term conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer will be able to monitor their health remotely.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The government wants patients to start using their mobile phones to access GP services

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, Mr Hunt said free wi-fi would be provided in all NHS buildings in England but a deadline has still not been set.

Previous efforts by other governments to modernise NHS technology have been fraught with difficulty.

Labour tried to launch electronic medical records in 2002. Described as "the world's biggest civil information technology programme", the effort was scrapped after at least £10bn was spent.

'Rehashing announcements'

Under the previous coalition government, Mr Hunt announced the NHS would go paperless by 2018.

BBC health correspondent Sophie Hutchinson said progress had been slow and this latest announcement was another attempt to push the NHS forward.

Labour's shadow health minister Justin Madders said: "Rather than rehashing old announcements, Jeremy Hunt needs to be telling the public how he intends to sort out the crisis facing our NHS.

"The Tories cannot hide from the fact that the NHS is going backwards on their watch.

"Hospital departments have become dangerously full, patients are waiting hours in A&E, and the health service is facing the worst financial crisis in a generation."

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