The government must prioritise joining up IT systems to unlock the potential of emergent technologies, according to a manifesto published by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).
The All Systems GP manifesto estimates that up to 80% of GP practices could be using outdated systems that are incompatible with the digital ambitions of health secretary Matt Hancock.
While the report recognises the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), digital medicine, genomics and robotics to improve patient care and safety, it insists that the implementation of such technologies will only be possible once secure and robust IT systems are in place.
The manifesto, launched last week at an event attended by Hancock, called for an IT overhaul at GP practices, with digitally enabled, connected premises with interoperable systems, as well as access to a single electronic patient records platform.
The same day, Hancock announced the roll-out of fibre optic broadband across all hospitals and GP practices as part of pledges made in the NHS Long Term Plan to improve the range and access of digital healthcare services.
The RGCP manifesto points out that the UK currently lags behind other European countries, such as Finland and Estonia, where a shared electronic patient record is in place.
According to RCGP chair Helen Stokes-Lampard, GPs want cutting-edge technology at their practices – but the basics need to work first.
“That means everything from making sure that our computers don’t crash while issuing a prescription, to making sure our systems talk to those in all hospitals, so that we can improve the care and experience that our patients receive throughout the NHS,” said Stokes-Lampard.
“We want the NHS to be a world leader in technology, and we are ready for a new wave of exciting opportunities that have the potential to revolutionise patient care, but a lot of work is needed before that can happen, and we need to ensure that these opportunities are embraced safely and sustainably with GPs at the centre of changes.”
NHS Digital welcomed the RCGP manifesto, saying that it has a “shared passion for realising the potential of digital transformation” and that it is “enthusiastic about working together to deliver the manifesto”.
NHS Digital’s director of primary care technology, Nic Fox, added: “NHS Digital will continue to be at the forefront of supporting the digital modernisation in GP practices, which will be of huge benefit to doctors and their patients.”
Practices need modern, interoperable systems that support efficient working, said Fox. He added that the upcoming GP IT futures framework will introduce standards to improve patient information-sharing and provide GP practices with a choice of systems and simplify switching or adding new digital products.
He said NHS Digital understands “the absolute importance of systems that are reliable and resilient”, pointing out that this has been achieved with systems such as Spine and the Summary Care Record, and that this will continue to be a key feature of the new GP IT framework.
“GPs need systems that are data-rich so they have the full picture on their patients’ interactions with secondary, community and social care,” said Fox. “They need data flowing easily from monitoring devices that comes to them in a format that is practical and useful, not more burdensome.”