A paperless NHS would save billions

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants the NHS to be paperless by 2018 – a move which a report says could help save the National Health Service billions of pounds a year.In a speech, Mr Hunt said that the first step is to give people online access to their health records by March 2015.

And by April 2018- most controversially, any crucial health information should be available to staff at the touch of a button.

This information technology revolution has been long in the offing.

It was Mr Hunt’s predecessor Andrew Lansley who first pledged in 2010 to start an information revolution to ensure patients could use the web to report their experiences, rate NHS organisations and access their records so there would be “no decision about me, without me”.

A couple of years on and progress has been patchy, with some parts of the NHS offering a big digital presence and others lagging.

Previous attempts to transform NHS information technology have run into trouble.

Labour’s white elephant scheme, Connecting for Health, ballooned in costs to £12 billion only allowed X-rays and scans to be stored and sent electronically.

But other parts of the programme – launched in 2002 – became mired in technical problems and contractual wrangling and the national programme has effectively been disbanded and local parts of the health service asked to proceed with upgrading IT systems.

In a speech to think tank Policy Exchange, Mr Hunt said “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,” he will say.

Mr Hunts comments come as a report by PwC suggests a potential £4.4bn could be put back into the NHS by using better use of information and technology.

Using electronic prescribing and electronic patient records would also give staff more time to spend with patients, for example the John Taylor Hospice near Birmingham found that using laptops more than doubled the amount of time clinicians could spend with patients.

The reason that the City got so worked up during the “DotCom Bubble” was that they foresaw the benefits of digitising business processes. Whenever one sees a TV interview with staff or patients in a NHS hospital one always sees huge files of paperwork for every patient.

Common sense cries out for a paperless NHS. The main issue though is patient data security- which has yet to be properly addressed. Until it is then more disappointment and more wasted tax payers’ money will be expected.