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NHS Long-Term Plan to bring health service into the digital age

The long-term plan to transform the NHS by using Theresa May’s £20.5bn-a-year birthday present promises use of artificial intelligence, genomic testing and digital GP appointments for all

The government is launching its NHS Long-Term Plan, promising to bring the health service into the digital age.

The plan sets out how the NHS will use its extra £20.5bn a year in funding by 2023/24, gifted to the health service for its 70th birthday in 2018 by prime minister Theresa May. 

The aim is to create an NHS built around the needs of the patient, using technologies to improve access to services and focusing on prevention and early detection of diseases.

The long-term plan promises that “everyone in the country” will have digital access to their GP, prescriptions and their own medical records. This mainly comes in form of the new NHS app, which is currently being rolled out across England.  

The app aims to give patients access to a range of NHS services, including being able to book appointments, view their medical records, order repeat prescriptions, select their data-sharing preferences, organ donation preferences, end-of-life care preferences and access NHS 111 online’s symptom checker and triage service.

The prime minister said the launch of the plan “marks an historic step to secure its future and offers a vision for the service for the next 10 years, with a focus on ensuring that every pound is spent in a way that will most benefit patients”.

“This will help relieve pressure on the NHS while providing the basis to transform care with world-class treatments. Backed by our record investment of £20.5bn a year in real terms by 2023/24, this shows what we can achieve with a strong economy and a focus on people’s priorities,” said May.

NHS England described the plan as a “blueprint to make the NHS fit for the future”, using technology to transform services, adding that the NHS will use “cutting-edge scans and technology, including the potential use of artificial intelligence” to transform services.  

It also sets out plans for the use of genomics, following the successful 100,000 Genomes Project, which completed in December 2018. 

In October 2018, health secretary Matt Hancock announced plans to sequence five million genomes over the next five years, significantly expanding the programme. Early this year, the government will also launch an NHS Genomic Medicine Service. 

The long-term plan said the NHS will provide genomic tests for every child with cancer, young people with rare genetic disorders and adults with rare conditions or specific cancers.

 NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said there has been a debate centred around the NHS’s success, concern about funding, staffing and pressure, as well as optimism about the possibilities “for continuing medical advance and better outcomes of care”.

“In looking ahead to the Health Service’s 80th birthday, this NHS Long-Term Plan acts on all three of these realities,” he said.

“It keeps all that’s good about our health service and its place in our national life. It tackles head-on the pressures our staff face, and it sets a practical, costed, phased route map for the NHS’s priorities for care quality and outcomes improvement for the decade ahead.”

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