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NHS chiefs need clear plan to digitise the health service, says King’s Fund

26 September 2016

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Government ministers and NHS leaders must set out a clear plan for using digital technology in the NHS, the King’s Fund has said.

The report, A digital NHS?, said leading figures need to create “realistic deadlines” after the Wachter Review into NHS IT systems found that current funding would be insufficient to achieve goals set for 2020.

The digitisation agenda “has been subject to a confusing array of announcements, initiatives and plans. Shifting priorities and slipping timescales pose a risk to credibility and commitment on the ground,” the report added.

Therefore, the think tank is calling for “a definitive plan, which clarifies priorities and sets credible timescales, generates commitment and momentum, and is achievable given the huge financial and operational pressures facing the NHS.”

To do this, the Government will need to be transparent about when funding will become available and how it will be accessed.

Earlier this year, Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, announced that more than £4 billion had been set aside for digital projects in the NHS over the course of this parliament.

The report adds that, while the Wachter review commends general practice for “widespread” digitisation, including that of patient records, “public awareness and use of this feature is minimal”.

The report says only 5.2% of GP patients report “being aware that their practice offers the ability to access records online”, while just 0.9% of GP patients said they have used this feature.

Matthew Honeyman, policy researcher at The King’s Fund, said: “Digital technology has the potential to transform the way patients engage with services and support them in managing their health and wellbeing. In the incredibly challenging context in which the NHS finds itself, a clear plan is needed for taking the digital health agenda forward.

“Ministers and NHS leaders must articulate a clear and compelling vision which conveys the benefits of digitisation to the clinical staff who will be central to implementing it and provide certainty about the funds available to support it.”

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