Information technology and the NHS – Here we go again?

Image of complex medical systems

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  • £1.8 billion to create a paper-free NHS and remove outdated technology like fax machines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.”

5 Replies to “Information technology and the NHS – Here we go again?”

  1. The NHS can only continue to deliver quality health services if it has the digital technologies to enable it to operate in an increasingly connected world. That’s why investment in the latest online services, applications and digitisation of patient records is so critical to give doctors and nurses instant access to data they need. But creating a paperless NHS requires a long-term strategy beyond digitisation, including remodelling of key processes to ensure that digital documents can reach the right people, at the right time, securely. Paperless healthcare will save money, but its real value comes with enabling new ways of working by allowing direct access to critical patient information at the touch of a button.
    Tony Pickering, professional services director at Ricoh UK

  2. The recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Health demonstrates a welcome commitment to improving the efficiency of the NHS but removing the burden of paper. However, this is a great opportunity for the NHS to move beyond simply becoming “paper-free”, and to embrace the greater benefits open to health providers and patients in a digital world.

    However, the NHS should not be aiming to simply digitise patient records or swap a doctor’s notebook for a tablet. The goal must be to enable the NHS to lead the way in modern, digital medicine, simultaneously improving patient care and empowering staff to become more productive.

    We are starting to see some NHS trusts and services embrace the benefits of digital to revolutionise patient care, including NHS England’s Health and Justice Department’s use of data analytics to monitor health services for patients detained in prisons and other prescribed accommodation across England, as well as the Royal Free’s digital patient records programme.

    A comprehensive digital transformation plan will enable secure access to patient records, quick sharing of data between GPs and hospitals, marked improvements in efficiency and better management of information from unstructured clinical records. In this way, NHS staff would be empowered to work productively – with quick access to correct data – in order to improve patient care.

    The ability to understand and analyse huge amounts of data results in valuable information which can significantly improve how services are commissioned. This is only possible when an organisation is truly digital and able to take advantage of all the benefits which true digital transformation brings.

    Mark Bridger, Vice President, Sales Northern Europe at OpenText

  3. The NHS can only become a truly digital organisation if health professionals and patients can connect instantly to access data and book services online. That’s why it’s vital that all NHS buildings are properly equipped with technology to ensure consistency of connectivity whether that’s in the waiting room or the accident and emergency department.
    While we of course welcome this investment in Wi-Fi, it is always critical that doctors and healthcare staff have access to cellular coverage in hospitals, so that – where it’s safe to do so – they can connect with staff and resolve issues in real-time and without delay. Without universal connectivity across all NHS buildings, the benefits of new applications and digitised records cannot be full realised.

    Phil Sorsky, VP of Wireless, Europe, at CommScope

  4. Recently, a High Court ruling paved the way for a new contract to be imposed on junior doctors – but this does nothing to address poor morale amongst doctors. Nearly nine in ten doctors planning to take a break are doing so because of work-life balance issues, and half of these cite burnout. The new contract will not counter-balance a burnout. It is clear that something needs to be done to ensure better staffing, whilst also allowing doctors the freedom to plan their hours with their personal commitments in mind. Staffing is difficult for the NHS because it’s critical to have enough doctors on shift, but instead of allowing autonomy the current system imposes a schedule leaving no room for flexibility. This needs to change – and not through tweaking payments and contracts, but through a grassroots revolution of current processes. The NHS needs to become more efficient, and it needs to turn to technology – smart, automated staffing tools – to do so.

    Chris McCullough, CEO and co-founder at RotaGeek

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