The government plans to go ahead with a controversial database of patient records, backed by a £1bn investment in IT over three years, despite catastrophic failures with similar NHS IT projects in the past.
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In theory, a single patient record database will ease pressure on A&E departments by cutting paperwork and making hospitals safer with patient information easily accessible to medical staff.
The system will also enable patients to manage repeat prescriptions, book GP appointments and access their own GP record online.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt claims patients are dying because they are being prescribed the wrong drugs, but new technology can reduce these errors by half, according to the Guardian.
“The appalling condition of much of the current IT infrastructure is not just a huge burden on NHS finances. It threatens patient safety, frustrates staff and is an unnecessary pressure on A&E departments,” Hunt wrote in a blog post.
Hospitals will bid for cash from a £500m technology fund to implement the scheme, but will be expected to match the government’s contribution.
Hunt believes technology is the key to improving health services and that past IT failures in the NHS must not prevent patients from seeing the benefits of technology that is transforming other services.
Labour's failed attempt to install a universal IT system in the NHS had the right idea but wrong execution, Hunt told ITV news.
Labour’s £13bn NHS computer scheme was “a gargantuan, one-size-fits-all solution that proved as unworkable as it was costly”, Hunt wrote in his blog post.
“Today’s announcement builds on our radically different vision – innovation driven by local healthcare providers working in the interest of patients. Individual providers will bid for our support in driving these local solutions,” he wrote.
Privacy campaigners have warned that the scheme will have a negative effect on the relationship between doctors and patients.
They argue that women suffering from domestic abuse, for example, will not tell their GPs out of fear that their partners will coerce them to reveal the password to their patient records; or that low-income mothers will refuse to talk to GPs about post-natal depression because of fears that social services will find out.
In response to these concerns, the Department of Health (DoH) said it is important health professionals maintain accurate records, so patients get the right treatment.
“The NHS Constitution makes clear that patients have the right to request that confidential information – in whatever form it is kept – is not used beyond their own care," said the DoH.
"Any electronic patient records system adopted by hospitals must be secure and comply with NHS England's requirement for modern, safe standards of record-keeping."
Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England, said a single patient record database means patients will not have to repeat themselves each time they speak to a different health care professional, according to ITV news.
“This extra funding will help us better meet the overwhelming demand from the Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards fund announced in May this year. It's great news for the NHS and great news for patients,” said Kelsey.
Chief executive of the NHS Confederation Mike Farrar said the cash injection to upgrade NHS IT systems should free up staff so they can concentrate more on caring for patients if it is invested in the right tools and technology.