Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt Safeguards NHS IT Spend

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Spending on technology will be protected Jeremy Hunt has pledged, despite NHS financial woes

The NHS will safeguard its spending on IT infrastructure in order to reduce paperwork for doctors and improve poor hospital systems.

So said health secretary Jeremy Hunt when he appeared this week before the Commons’ health select committee, which is looking into the Department of Health and NHS finances.

IT Spending

Hunt made the commitment public to IT spending when he was asked to provide an example of how the NHS would deliver long term sustainability with the current amount of cash it has to spend every year.

“One of the things that we have protected is IT, because we had the Wachter Review and it showed that some hospitals – the majority of hospitals – have IT that does not meet international standards,” Hunt reportedly said.

jeremyhunt“That means doctors spend more time on paperwork, or that hospitals have multiple IT systems that do not share information with each other,” he said.

The health secretary pointed to progress that includes rolling out the extension of the Summary Care Record to many A&E departments. Hunt reportedly said this “has been good for patient safety” and showed how “long term changes that are good for quality and safety” that “we want to prioritise”.

Last month Hunt announced new funding to develop advanced digital practices at 12 exemplar NHS trusts as part of a wider plan to improve digital skills and technologies across the healthcare service.

That plan came in response to a review headed by University of California professor Bob Wachter. In addition, there was also an expansion of the NHS’ 111 non-emergency health line and the Choices website.

Incidentally, that Wachter review also found that the target of making the NHS paperless by 2020 was “unrealistic” and instead recommended a phased approach that would initially focus on honing the digital practices of select trusts that are already well-positioned to implement new technologies.

NHS Tech

The backdrop of the NHS IT spending commitment comes amid a growing national debate about funding levels within the NHS. Some feel that the NHS requires even more funding to help it cope with an ageing population and more expensive medical treatments.

But the NHS tends to a poor track record when it comes to its IT spending programmes.

Undoubtedly the most famous IT NHS failure in recent times was the botched £12.7 billion NHS Programme for IT (NpfIT). In 2011, the then coalition government axed the NpfIT programme it had inherited from the previous Labour government.

Last year Tim Kelsey, the national director for patients and information at NHS England resigned. He had been in charge of a number of NHS initiatives, including the controversial scheme, which a government watchdog said last June was “unachievable” in its current form.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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