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Paperless NHS 'would save £4 billion'
Health Secretary calls for online health records and paperless referrals
16th January 2013 - The NHS should go paperless by 2018 to save billions of pounds and improve services, says the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
In a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank, Mr Hunt says patients should be able to see their medical details online and that their digital records should follow them around the health and social care system.
He says this should mean that in the vast majority of cases, whether a patient needs a GP, hospital or a care home, the professionals involved in their care can see their history at the touch of a button and share crucial information.
Online medical records
The Health Secretary wants to enable all patients to get online access to their own health records held by their GP by March 2015, in a plan outlined last year.
On the way to the goal of making digital information fully accessible across the NHS, Mr Hunt wants to see paperless referrals by GPs to hospital specialists and "clear plans" to enable secure linking of health and care records across the system.
His announcement coincides with the publication of two reports on the potential benefits of making better use of technology in the health service.
An assessment by Price Waterhouse Coopers says the potential savings to the NHS and social care system could be around £4.4 billion each year.
Another report by the NHS's National Mobile Health Worker Project concludes that using mobile technology can increase the time health professionals spend with patients.
Big government computer projects do not have a good track record of being completed on time or staying within budgets. A previous plan by the last Labour government to introduce joined up information technology to the NHS was scrapped by the coalition government in 2011.
World class care
Mr Hunt acknowledges that successive governments have failed to get to grips with technology but argues that delay is no longer acceptable. "The NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution," he says.
He adds: "It is crazy that ambulance drivers cannot access a full medical history of someone they are picking up in an emergency - and that GPs and hospitals still struggle to share digital records.
"Previous attempts to crack this became a top down project akin to building an aircraft carrier. We need to learn those lessons - and in particular avoid the pitfalls of a hugely complex, centrally specified approach.
"Only with world class information systems will the NHS deliver world class care."
Commenting on the Health Secretary's challenge to the NHS to go paperless, Professor John Williams, director of the health informatics unit at the Royal College of Physicians says in a statement: "Health records are the cornerstone of good care. Doctors, patients, relatives and carers need good record keeping in order to improve clinical information and decision making, and to reduce the likelihood of patients having to provide the same information over and over again."
The Patients Association says the government's proposals have the potential to deliver a more integrated, faster and personalised service for patients. However its chief executive Katherine Murphy cautions that, "there remain many patients, including vulnerable and older people, who because of their needs or challenges have limited ability to use digital technology".
She continues in a statement: "The risk is that by making the NHS increasingly open for some patients, it actually becomes more closed for others."