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Health secretary Matt Hancock to boost NHS IT with £200m fund

Matt Hancock will announce a £200m fund for further digital centres of excellence and plans to pilot the NHS app across England, but shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth calls the plans a “pipe dream”

Health secretary Matt Hancock is launching a £200m fund to improve IT systems in the NHS as he calls on healthcare leaders to get on board with digital.  

Speaking at the NHS Expo in Manchester today (6 September), Hancock is expected to say the funding will be used to create new centres of digital excellence across acute, mental health, ambulance and community trusts.

Last year, the then health secretary Jeremy Hunt handed out £10 each to 12 trusts that would lead the way in becoming global digital exemplars, also known as centres of excellence. Since then, the number has grown to 16 trusts, with 17 “fast followers”, as well as a few mental health and ambulance trusts becoming digital centres of excellence.

Announcing the fund, Hancock is expected to say that now that NHS IT failures such as Care.data and the National Programme for IT in the NHS are “behind us”, this is the time to “set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier and make money go further, harnessing the amazing explosion of innovation that the connection of billions of minds through digital technology has brought to this world”.

“Like good tech elsewhere, we need technology that makes life easier for hardworking and often overstretched staff. We need technology that can run basic tasks and processes more efficiently,” Hancock is expected to say.

“This will save the NHS money and free up staff time, money and time that can be better used to provide great care.”

However, the £200m funding will not come from new capital funding, but rather from moving around existing NHS revenue budgets, which are already squeezed.

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Shadow health secretary Johnathan Ashworth said it was “astonishing” that rather than prioritising dealing with staff shortages or ever-growing waiting lists in the NHS, “the health secretary is insisting new IT systems must be paid for by already over-stretched budgets”.

“This isn’t a serious plan for technology and innovation in the NHS – it’s a pipe dream,” he said.

Hancock will also announce plans to pilot the NHS app, which is due to launch before the end of the year. This means that from next month, patients in Liverpool, Bristol, South Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Hastings will be able to use the beta version of the app to book appointments, view their medical records, order repeat prescriptions and access NHS 111 online, as well as several other services.

Regarding healthcare leaders, Hancock is expected to say that he knows there are many working hard to do the right thing “and I will back you”.

“And I say to NHS leaders: I expect every board, be they provider, clinical commissioning group (CCG) or Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP), to grapple with this agenda and back the people doing the transformation.”

This echoes the message from NHS England’s director of operations Matthew Swindells, who yesterday said it’s hugely important to digitise the NHS – and if it doesn’t happen, “we are condemning people to die”. 

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