£1.9bn available to health authorities with electronic patient records

The government has set aside £1.9bn to fund the development of better care in the NHS, according to health minister Jeremy Hunt

The government has set aside £1.9bn to fund development of better care in the NHS, but health authorities' access to it will depend on them making better use of technology, says health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The fund has been topped up by local health authorities to reach a total of £5bn, but the government’s central fund of £1.9bn cannot be accessed by authorities unless they have met certain standards, such as implementing electronic health records.

The funding can then be used to implement changes needed to address health issues arising from the ageing UK population.

“The traditional debate we’ve had in British politics about whether or not you should increase funding to the NHS and social care system through more taxation has been eclipsed in this country by the fact that we have a huge deficit,” said Hunt in a speech at the eHealth week event in London.

He called on the next parliament to address the UK’s budget deficit, and said: “We cannot have a strong NHS without a strong economy.”

Hunt said that by the time the next general election arrives after this year's poll, there will be one million more people aged over 65 who will need a different type of healthcare.

The current healthcare system will not be able to scale up to cope with the demands of an ageing population, he said, and technology will help to address the problem.

“At the moment in the NHS, patients using the system will say that one of their biggest frustrations is having to repeat details of their problems to multiple different providers of services,” said Hunt. “Proper use of electronic health records should change that.”

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The health secretary said by the end of next month, 95% of UK patients will be able to access their electronic health records for free online or in their GP’s office, moving towards the NHS’s overall goal of helping to prevent illnesses from developing.

Electronic health records will help to achieve this by generating “the whole picture” about patients and put their healthcare into their own hands, as well as publishing information such as clinical performance data online to increase transparency, said Hunt.

“The real benefit of transparency is that we can make it the driver to improve performance,” he said. “The first major change I think this will have is in the delivery of personalised healthcare.”

This month saw the introduction of online booking of GP appointments and prescription renewal, and by 2018 the NHS aims to make all such activities paperless. 

Hunt said these small changes were as much about NHS culture as about developing technology, and progress measurement within the system should also change to be delivered through peer reviews and data transparency to drive efficiency rather than budgets and targets.

The NHS’s care.data scheme, the guideline for introducing electronic patient records and data sharing throughout the health service, has been fraught with problems because of its lack of transparency.

In February 2014, the project was put on hold for six months to develop plans for how to roll it out and explain it to the public.

The NHS planned to roll out a trial for the programme last year, in which GP surgeries would collect patient data, but the plans were met with widespread concerns over data privacy.

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