Going digital is no longer optional for the NHS – Tim Kelsey

The NHS mantra should be: “Every patient needs a barcode”.

That was the revolutionary thought outlined by Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s National Director for Patients and Information and Chair of the National Information Board, as he opened day two of the Health and Care Innovation Expo 2015 conference in Manchester.

He told delegates: “Hospitals across the country are spending more than one million pounds a year carting around records with staff driving around trucks of paper. Fax machines, treasury tags…these are entrails, the legacy of a dead world that we need to put behind us.

“Not so long ago I met a doctor who said that patients didn’t want computers and neither did he. We in the NHS have a moral responsibility to tell the story of why change is needed.

“If doctors have digital tools to remind them to get the right medication to the right patients at the right time, errors are halved.

“Cancer physicians say that between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of appointments are cancelled because they cannot access diagnostic results in real time.

“The evidence for digital helping to keep patients safer is clear cut.”

“The NHS needs to get over the idea that we can’t do technology.  We are all here to think differently about how we can empower patients to take more control of their health.”

Mr Kelsey announced new measures to urge healthcare leaders to end the unnecessary reliance on paper in the treatment of patients.

To focus local NHS leaders on the task of modernising services, every local health and care area is required to submit a delivery plan by April 2016 describing how they will become paper-free at the point of care by 2020.

To offer support and help ensure that healthcare providers get the digital basics ‘right’, NHS England has today released guidance which includes a set of key digital standards.

From November, all clinical commissioning groups and providers will complete a self-assessment to benchmark their use of digital technology and paper free records.  The results will form a ‘digital maturity index’, giving a picture of how far the NHS has come on its mission to make effective and meaningful use of technology and highlighting areas for improvement.  Going forward, the ‘digital maturity index’ will become part of the CQC inspection regime.

Mr Kelsey explained: “This is not one of those random technology initiatives – this is part of the commissioning infrastructure and part of the CQC inspection.”

He reiterated the commitment of the NHS to help the public and clinicians make more use of technology to improve the health of the nation, adding: “We want the NHS to be an open platform for innovation.

“We are urgently working to develop proposals for switching on wifi across the entire NHS estate.  This will enable all NHS patients and healthcare professionals to make better use of digital health services. Banks do it, the tube does it, the NHS needs to follow suit.

“We’re the only country in the world that offers patients access to their GP record and the chance to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions online.  6.6 million people have now registered for these services, which is great but we need to do more to make sure that everyone is aware of what’s on offer.

He concluded: “We all need to make the case nationally and locally for more investment in technology.  It will enable us to deliver the vision set out in the Five Year Forward View of a modern, safe NHS which meets the needs of the patients it serves.

“Am I being trolled on twitter for making the case for a digital NHS? Yes but it’s kind of a privilege.”