The NHS has had an unhappy history in its relationships with information technologies. Undeterred, Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a £4.2 billion investment in IT in the National Health Service (NHS), as part of the relaunched ‘digital transformation plan’.<
Examples of planned investments include:

  • £1.8 billion to create a paper-free NHS and remove outdated technology like fax machines
  • £1 billion on cyber security and data consent
  • At least 10% of patients accessing GP services online and through apps by March 2017

Google, Apple and Microsoft will team up with the NHS to ensure the apps are fully supported across mobile platforms.

There is a sense that the government is pushing on an open door with its IT plans. A new Pricewaterhouse Cooper study of the UK’s healthcare market has found that almost four in 10 people would be willing to receive advice from their GP through their smartphones and tablets, while six in 10 would be happy to see a GP at a retail store during their shopping trips.   Two thousand UK consumers, patients and clinicians were polled as part of PwC’s “Capture the Growth” study, which found that increasingly IT- savvy consumers are willing to have their care delivered in non-traditional settings, from non-traditional players.

The healthcare apps and wearables sectors are expected to be worth £460m and £375m respectively by 2020 ( vs £100m and £125m in 2015), PwC  predicts. The wellness and fitness market, which includes gym memberships, studios, nutrition and sports drinks, alternative medicines, sports equipment, wearables and apps was estimated to be worth almost £20bn in 2015 and is predicted to grow to almost £23bn by 2020. Potential beneficiaries in the IT industry are enthusiastic but also cautious.

Gordon Morrison, Director of Government Relations at Intel Security said: “This investment sends a clear signal that the government is serious about transforming the NHS and making it fit for the digital age.  However, the journey towards digitised records and services brings with it challenges around cyber security, privacy and protection of patient data.

That’s why it’s vital that the digital NHS plan is underpinned with a dedicated cyber strategy that can enable secure transformation that protects data from outsider threats. This approach will mean doctors, nurses and patients can enjoy world class digital health services and operate with genuine confidence in the increasingly connected online world.”

John Smith, principal solution architect at Veracode, added: “These proposals for a more connected, app-enabled NHS will certainly offer patients and health professionals more efficient digital services which are long overdue. But whilst patients will benefit from mobile access to records, data and online bookings, the sharp rise  in healthcare apps could cause headaches for the government. That’s why it’s vital that all applications which access confidential data are fully tested and protected from vulnerabilities which could be an easy target for cyber criminals wishing to damage the NHS or profit from the wealth of sensitive data it holds.

Veracode’s research has shown that the healthcare industry has a poor track record in terms of creating secure code – with 69% of apps tested failing to meet basic security standards, and only 43% of identified flaws being fixed. Healthcare apps were also found to have a particularly high prevalence of Cryptographic Flaws which is rather worrying given that Encryption is one of the key technologies needed to protect sensitive data.”