'Challenging' NHS Digital Future

Peter Russell

October 18, 2018

Information and Technology systems within the NHS and social care system that have proved obstructive and outdated will be phased out and replaced with 'real time' technology that would enhance patient care, the Government has pledged.

The announcement could help pave the way towards healthcare workers being able to access patient data in all settings and allow individuals the ability to access their own patient records.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said that future IT systems in the health service in England, or those that provided patient health services, would have to meet minimum technical standards.

Existing providers who have failed to comply could face having their contracts terminated, said Mr Hancock.

'Technology is Coming'

"The tech revolution is coming to the NHS," Mr Hancock said. "These robust standards will ensure that 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."

Digital services and IT systems in the NHS would have to enshrine open standards within their application programming interface (API) to make the whole system interoperable and upgradable, Mr Hancock said. However, all NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) would be able to buy other systems to meet needs.

A 'Challenging' Project

The policy paper, The future of healthcare: our vision for digital, data and technology in health and care , said that a new generation of technology from smartphones to genomics were transforming healthcare. However, it conceded that technology used in hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes, pharmacies, and community care facilities "don't talk to each other, fail frequently and do not follow modern cyber security practices". It said the current situation had led to poorer patient care, health staff frustration, and wasted money.

NHS digital described the project as "challenging" and admitted that many existing IT projects have failed to live up to expectations. 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."

Artificial Intelligence

The ambition, set out by the Department of Health and Social Care, looked beyond making the current health system work better and towards a future where artificial intelligence (AI) diagnosed disease, robots and voice assistants helped support people during rehabilitation, and assisted with medication management.

Mr Hancock, who took over the health and social care brief in July 2018, is a keen supporter of technology in health services. Earlier this week he promised a rollout of digital prescription exemptions to reduce fraudulent claims.


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