There’s no doubting that the current Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, is a great advocate for the use of technology in the NHS, so it’s hardly surprising that he is frustrated by the lack of urgency to replace paper by going digital. Speaking at the NHS Empowering People in a digital world conference held in London he criticised those people in the health care system for not using secure, modern communication. By that he was referring to e-mail – hardly a new concept in 2019 but it hasn’t been that long since the “axe the fax” campaign when Hancock banned the NHS from buying any more machines. It’s easy to spot the sarcasm in his reported speech “We can save lives, save staff time and cut costs by using an extraordinary piece of technology that has the ability to allow two people to communicate instantaneously… It’s called email, I don’t know whether any of you have heard of it. We’re going to use it across the NHS, not just to communicate internally, but to communicate by default with patient.”
Apparently, the NHS spends £8m a year on paper and another £2m on envelopes. “More than half a million letters between GPs and hospitals have gone missing over the past five years. If I need to motivate both the privacy and the operational need to update this outdated technology, that half million figure is right at the top of the list,” said Hancock. Security of email services in the NHS has been part of the NHS Digital strategy.
“There’s no reason why a doctor can’t email a patient confidentially, for example, with their test results or prescription, rather than make them wait days for a letter or ask them to come into the surgery… as long as the email system is secure. Being able to email a patient is important, necessary and the right thing to do. Snail mail is slower and less secure. In a city like London, people change (home) address more often than their email address. The rest of the world runs on email – and the NHS should too.” said Hancock.
Digitising patient letters is key to reducing cost and saving time for hospitals and all communication should take place online by 2021 according to the Minister.
Another of Hancock’s initiatives was also highlighted at the conference. Predictive prevention which includes the use of digital technology to help people manage their own illness was highlighted by Michael Ekpe, the chief digital and technology officer at Public Health England. Changing people’s behaviours and lifestyles coupled with sharing personal data from their own digital devices, such as smartphones, fitness trackers and other medical wearables, with the health service has the potential to not only save money for hospitals but also prevent illness from occurring or becoming more serious.
Hancock’s faith in technology is good news for the channel with plenty of opportunities available in a wide range of programmes underway to modernise the NHS.