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Citizens don’t want the NHS to prioritise digital health, report finds

The UK public want the NHS to focus spending on cancer care, staff and mental health, and rank digital access to services lowest on their list of priorities

The NHS’s extra £20.5bn funding should be spent focusing on how to deliver change in the health service, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The think-tank said there is a growing need for reform in the NHS, and that technology and data should be “the driver of change”.

Earlier this year, prime minister Theresa May promised an extra £20.5bn a year for the NHS by 2023, and health secretary Matt Hancock has said technology is key to get the best return on the funding. 

However, according to a survey commissioned by the IPPR, the UK public ranks digital services as less important when it comes to where the funding should be spent.

Instead, citizens list their top three spending priorities as better-quality cancer care; recruiting, retaining and training staff; and better-quality mental health care. Bottom of the list is digital access to services.

“Our polling finds that the public do not want to prioritise digital health,” the report said, adding that the public do value high-quality care, “so where technology can help deliver this, it should be prioritised”.

The IPPR believes the opportunities brought by digital technologies, including automation, are “significant”, and urges the NHS to take advantage of this.

The think-tank found that, so far, the NHS has “failed to fully embrace the fourth industrial revolution”, pointing to figures showing that while 73% of UK citizens have access to a smartphone and 90% have access to the internet, only 2% interact digitally with the NHS.  

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It said the NHS should set out a long-term plan to ensure all NHS trusts have a chief technology officer (CTO) on the board to drive change.

“The NHS long-term plan should also work with government to establish a new information governance system – to replace Caldicott principles – that better balances the need to deliver better-quality, safer and more efficient care with privacy,” the report said. 

It said the government should also mandate every local health economy to create an integrated dataset.

In October, Hancock set out his tech vision for the NHS, with a clear focus on open standards and interoperability.  

The vision includes several proposals aimed at making the NHS the “most advanced health and care system in the world”, through modern technology architecture, a focus on user needs, privacy and security, interoperability and inclusion.

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