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Hunt pledges ‘paperless NHS’

Published on 04/02/13 at 10:52am
Hunt image

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has put his head on the block by pledging that moves towards a ‘paperless NHS’ will be clearly visible in two years’ time.

Speaking at a panel discussion hosted by the Cambridge Health Network, Hunt said that ‘one region in England’ would have a fully portable electronic health record in place by the next general election.

According to the Department of Health’s own ten-year information strategy, published in May, patients will be able to view their GP record online anyway by 2015.

Hunt reiterated that his ambition was for a fully digital NHS by 2018 and launched a ‘lighthearted’ video, ‘Taking the hassle out of healthcare’, designed to illustrate the benefits.

In a scene which may stretch credulity, the two-minute animated film contrasts a frustrated caller in a phone queue with a patient happily doing everything online from an exercise bike.

An elderly patient is shown having to repeat her medical history to myriad health and social care figures under the current system, before extolling the virtues of everything she has told her GP now being seen online by all of the team which cares for her.

In another scene, mountains of paper cover a patient’s hospital bed. With the final tagline ‘we can all see clearly now’, the film signs off saying: ‘A paperless NHS: better for patients, better for staff’.

As part of its moves towards a paperless NHS, the DH released an ambitious strategy on information sharing in December.

And it is about to pilot what it calls a ‘digital first’ approach to all communications activity and evaluation.

Hunt said Labour’s concentration on IT infrastructure had had merit, but the emphasis on big IT contracts was wrong.

In keeping with the ethos of his predecessor Andrew Lansley’s health reforms, things had to be driven ‘from the bottom up’, Hunt declared.

Two things are also different from Labour’s time, he went on: the government has learned a great deal about how to manage large-scale IT programmes - and technology ‘has been mainstreamed’ into daily lives.

This technology could help the NHS with its two major challenges - an ageing population and financial sustainability. 

He added that every trust has to make QIPP savings, and that to ignore the potential of technology to offer a better service at a lower cost is ‘a mad thing to do’.

“Adopting this will save lives and free up clinicians,” Hunt concluded. “That’s a very powerful reason.”

Adam Hill

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