The Pain of Pace: How the NHS Needs to Play Catch Up


Why the NHS needs an injection of urgency to transform patient care and reboot ROI.

The NHS in England should be paperless by now.Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt first called for its digital transformation by 2018 five years ago. He argued that it would save billions, improve services and meet the challenges of an ageing population.

“The NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution,” Hunt declared.

“Only with world class information systems will the NHS deliver world class care.”

After it sank in the treacle of Coalition government, Hunt revived his drive in 2016 with a £4.2 billion pledge to invest in programmes to deliver digitisation by 2020. This month, NHS Digital declared public cloud services to be a safe location for health and social care providers to store confidential patient information.

It’s the kind of action that will see the health system catch-up with other sectors, such as banking and retail. But as the NHS crisis grows ever more acute, it means patients AND the taxpayer cannot afford the Government’s latest plans to go off-track.

The problem is that implementation is patchy, but we must persevere because the prize on offer is not only more efficient and productive ways of working, but – critically – better patient care.For instance, a patient’s Summary Care Record, which holds vital information taken from their medical records, should be accessible electronically by authorised clinicians anywhere in the country.

At Daisy, we introduced the use of connected tablets which enable specialist teams at one NHS Trust to assess mentally ill and vulnerable members of the community precisely where and when they need help.

By accessing medical records – and whilst buddying with police officers – the teams are able to diagnose and treat instantly; often preventing the patient from inappropriately entering the criminal justice system, which is too often the norm.

Another benefit of digital transformation it’s that it saves money in the long-term. The NHS spend on postage each year is equivalent to employing 2,000 nurses. But what makes reform difficult is that the NHS in England is not a single organisation that acts as one.

There are more than 9,000 separate parts involved in providing or commissioning NHS care. And that doesn’t even include social care, pharmacies and dental surgeries.

The NHS is getting better, and policy direction is improving; but these silos, along with legacy systems and concerns about data use is holding change back too often. The NHS is riddled with creaking, old IT infrastructure, as the recent WannaCry attack showed. The incident also highlighted concerns about data security.

Progress relies on confidential patient data being accessed seamlessly throughout the system. It needs to be legal, safe and secure to ensure patient trust in the new digital systems and how the NHS uses individual data.

Of course, all these issues show just how challenging this stuff is. But enabling a single patient record to seamlessly and securely pass from function to function will unlock thousands of potential benefits; open up myriad AI and IoT opportunities; and completely reboot the economics of the NHS.

Now THAT’S real, meaningful digital transformation.

This article was originally published in Public Sector Focus Magazine, January/February 2018