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NHS will get shared care records by September 2021, says Matt Hancock

The health secretary sets September 2021 target for shared care records roll-out, and wants to explore potential of moving patient data being held in proprietary systems to the cloud

Every local area will have a basic shared care record in place by September 2021, health secretary Matt Hancock has promised.

Speaking at the Digital Health Rewired conference today (18 March), Hancock said it needs to be easier for everyone across the NHS to use data to improve care. “That means anybody from if you’re a surgeon, a GP, a district nurse, you need to be able to draw information from or put information into the same care record in a safe and straightforward way,” he said.  

“To make this happen, we’re putting in place shared care records. This will mean patients only need to give their details once and they’ll be captured in a local record that can be safely seen by those who are caring for and every local system will have at least a basic shared record solution in place by September this year.”

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, all social care providers are expected to have access to digitised records that are interoperable with shared care records by 2024.

Hancock also wants to make big changes to health data and the way it is stored. He said the data belongs to the patient, but that most “live patient data” is held by the companies who provide the electronic patient record system (EPR).

“But it isn’t their data, and although it isn’t their data, too often these systems act as a barrier to accessing it,” he said. “This means that data might not be accessible and can’t be properly shared, providing a barrier to the research the innovation that we know has so much potential and hampering the life-saving role that data can play in promoting patient safety.

“We need to make it easier to write applications or create services that interact with data from different NHS organisations,” said Hancock. “I want to explore whether we can remove this barrier to innovation and separate the data layer from the application layer. So providers can offer the application software, the data will be stored separately and securely in the cloud.” 

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The aim is to have a consistent data platform across the NHS, Hancock added, and said that he knows it’s a “big change”.

The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has seen a huge increase in uptake of digital technologies in the NHS. Hancock said that one of the key lessons learned from the NHS’s Covid-19 response is that pulling together data that had previously sat in silos was critical.

“In many ways, every day of the last year has been a session of digital transformation, because of this shared experience of fighting the virus, and the vital role that technology has played in the response,” said Hancock.

He also highlighted the importance of understanding that digital transformation is not just digitising pathways from “an analogue age”, and that the technology must be used to “fundamentally improve” by shaping new ways of delivering health and care.

“We will work across all clinical pathways over time, in order to optimise them for digital technology in order to deliver better care,” said Hancock.

However, despite the pandemic having accelerated digital transformation, there are huge differences between trusts and NHS localities across the country. While some are seen as digitally advanced, others are still using 20 year old systems.

Hancock said it is key to ensure “we level up inequalities” and ensure that those who have “moved the least far on the digital journey” are also benefitting and being supported.

Digital aspirant programme

Last year, NHSX launched a digital aspirant programme, which helps trusts with procurement, deployment and uptake of technology.

The first wave of the programme covered 27 trusts, and Hancock announced that a further 32 will now join the programme. Seven trusts will be given up to £6m over the next three years to do so, while the others will be given seed funding “to start creating their plans”.

“To do this will focus on all parts of the NHS. It’s is very important that this is right across the NHS and indeed social care, including mental health and community trusts, which can feel the benefits of digital transformation just as much as acute trusts,” he said.

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