The just published NHS Long Term Plan puts technology at the forefront of improving the NHS and patient care. Endorsed by the Prime Minister, Theresa May said at the launch “I wanted to see the NHS make greater use of technology, not only to make healthcare safer and more effective, but making the most of exciting new possibilities and giving you greater control over your own care.”
According to the 126 page document, technology will play a central role in realising the Long Term Plan, helping clinicians use the full range of their skills, reducing bureaucracy, stimulating research and enabling service transformation. People will have more control over the care they receive and more support to manage their health, to keep themselves well and better manage their conditions, while assisting carers in their vital work.
As well as setting out a series of milestones over the next ten years (detailed below), it also points out some of the work in progress projects that are currently underway. It states that good progress has been made in achieving the ambitions set out in the Five Year Forward View and the Wachter report, with many new or enhanced digital and technology systems and services delivered over the last three years. Citizens have access to high quality NHS information and digital services through the transformed nhs.uk website. Citizens and health professionals can access over 70 apps that have been assessed and approved via the NHS Apps Library. WiFi is being installed across the NHS estate. The national roll-out of the NHS App has begun, and will provide citizens with access to NHS 111 online, their GP record, the ability to book appointments, update data sharing preferences and register for organ donation, all from their computer or smart phone.
In addition, it maintains that the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) is now used in 93% of England’s 7,300 GP practices, with more than 67% of their prescriptions delivered via EPS. This has improved patient experience and saved the NHS £136m in the three years from 2013 to 2016. People can book hospital appointments online via the NHS e-Referral Service, which now covers every hospital and every GP practice, creating expected savings for the NHS in excess of £50m a year.
However, as the document states the NHS is made up of hundreds of separate but linked organisations, and the burden of managing complex interactions and data flows between trusts, systems and individuals too often falls on patients and clinicians. Digital services and data interoperability are key for the future. The plan is that the NHS in England will offer a ‘digital first’ option for most, allowing for longer and richer face-to-face consultations with clinicians where patients want or need it. Wearable devices will become more commonplace to monitor patients at home and encourage people to manage their own health and recognise important symptoms early. The NHS App will play an increasingly, important role in enabling people to access the NHS digitally. At the same time, the focus will be to ensure that clinicians can access and interact with patient records and care plans “wherever they are”, whilst protecting patients’ privacy and putting them in control of their records.
The NHS’s milestones for digital technology, as set out in the NHS Long Term Plan:
During 2019, we will introduce controls to ensure new systems purchased by the NHS comply with agreed standards, including those set out in The Future of Healthcare [the preliminary policy paper published last October, which set out Matt Hancock’s digital vision for the NHS].
By 2020, five geographies will deliver a longitudinal health and care record platform linking NHS and local authority organisations, three additional areas will follow in 2021.
In 2020/21, people will have access to their care plan and communications from their care professionals via the NHS App; the care plan will move to the individual’s LHCR [Local Health Care Record] across the country over the next five years.
By summer 2021, we will have 100% compliance with mandated cyber security standards across all NHS organisations in the health and care system.
In 2021/22, we will have systems that support population health management in every Integrated Care System across England, with a Chief Clinical Information Officer or Chief Information Officer on the board of every local NHS organisation.
By 2022/23, the Child Protection Information system will be extended to cover all healthcare settings, including general practices.
By 2023/24 every patient in England will be able to access a digital first primary care offer.
By 2024, secondary care providers in England, including acute, community and mental health care settings, will be fully digitised, including clinical and operational processes across all settings, locations and departments. Data will be captured, stored and transmitted electronically, supported by robust IT infrastructure and cyber security, and LHCRs [Local Health Care Records] will cover the whole country.