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Chancellor sets aside £2.1bn to fund NHS IT modernisation

Improving efficiency, reducing waiting times and expanding tests and scans are among the key targets for £5.9bn of extra NHS funding

As part of the autumn 2021 Budget and Spending Review, chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak has unveiled £5.9bn of extra funding for the NHS, more than a third of which is being set aside for IT.

The main thrust of the announcement is for funding to help tackle NHS backlogs across England.

In this Wednesday’s Budget and Spending Review, Sunak will set out the investment in NHS capital funding to deliver about 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 compared with pre-pandemic levels. According to HM Treasury, this is equivalent to millions more checks, scans and procedures for non-emergency patients.

To address the Covid backlog of people waiting for crucial checks, tests and scans, and to help get waiting lists down, the chancellor is set to unveil a £2.3bn chunk of the funding package that will be used to set up at least 100 community diagnostic centres to help clear most backlogs of people waiting for clinical tests such as MRIs, ultrasounds and CT scans. As part of the extra NHS funding, there will be a £2.1bn investment to modernise digital technology.

Sunak said: “We are committed to getting health services back on track and ensuring no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatment.

“This is a game-changing investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future.”

To improve efficiency and security in the NHS, £2.1bn of the £5.9bn total will be invested in technology and data. According to health secretary Savid Javid, this will be used to ensure digital systems in hospitals and mental health care settings are as robust, connected and efficient as possible – freeing up valuable NHS staff time.

Javid said new and improved IT will help NHS staff to access the fastest broadband to provide seamless care, and digital patient records will ensure patients get the best care wherever they are. “This £6bn investment will support the delivery of millions more checks, scans and procedures for patients across the country,” he said. “Business as usual won’t be enough – that’s why we are going to reform care with more community diagnostic centres, new surgical hubs and the latest technology to help recover NHS services by tackling waiting lists.”

As Computer Weekly has reported previously, greater efficiencies throughout the health service are possible if there are improvements in data sharing. As part of its Digital Transformation Plan, NHSX recently drafted a data-sharing policy document outlining the overarching vision for how NHS England will digitise, connect and transform the health and care sector. According to NHSX, data will help to promote collaboration across the NHS.

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