Sajid Javid pushes digitisation of social care records

Health secretary wants 80% of providers to abandon paper-based records by 2024 ahead of broader plans for digital health and care

UK health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has set out a government target to have 80% of all care providers move away from paper-based records by 2024 ahead of broader digital health and care plans to be published this spring.

Announcing the goal at the Care England conference on 23 March, Javid said “digitisation in social care is not a ‘nice to have’; it’s an absolute necessity”. Acknowledging the culture change this will entail – around 40% of providers still work entirely in a paper-based manner – he said the health sector was also experiencing challenges in rolling out digital records, but providers would be supported.

“We’re determined to support you in that endeavour, supporting providers with the connectivity and digital skills they will need to recover and reform in the years ahead,” the secretary said, adding he was excited about what machine learning and artificial intelligence could offer in terms of delivering personalised care.

Javid said the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) would soon be publishing its first Digital Health and Care Plan, which will focus on areas such as joint health and social care records.

“[The upcoming plan] will be an essential stepping stone on our vital journal to transform social care through technology, drive unprecedented integration with the NHS and, ultimately, improve people’s lives,” Javid noted.

The secretary’s speech was the latest in a series of events where Javid has been emphasising the government’s tech vision for health and social care. In February, he outlined the priorities around driving digital transformation in the NHS, in areas such as personalised care and the roll-out of digital social care records.

At the time, Javid said digital transformation in the health service had “seen brilliant progress” of late, but it had not been consistent across the system, noting that one in five trusts still did not have electronic patient records (EPR) in place. “Electronic patient records are the essential prerequisite for a modern, digital NHS. Without them, we cannot achieve the full potential for reform,” the secretary said.

For the healthcare sector, the idea is to have digital records live or being implemented in 90% of NHS trusts by December 2023. DHSC expects that digital transformation initiatives in health and social care will free up 23,000 hours of nursing time for care yearly.

Also in February, DHSC published a whitepaper outlining measures to improve the link between the NHS and social care. The paper set out an approach to designing shared outcomes, with “person-centred care” as a priority. Addressing the plans, Javid stressed the role of integration as “vital to stop people falling into the gaps between health and social care”.

As part of the vision set out by the government, goals include introducing shared health and care records that can be accessed by all citizens, caregivers and care teams by 2024. The starting point for this will be a consolidation of existing terminology standards by December 2022 – according to the DHSC, standards are key to integrated care delivery and a roadmap for standards development will be published.

According to the whitepaper, the final version of the Data Saves Lives data strategy for health and care, to be published this year, will set out further details of when and how information can be accessed by individuals.

The plan also aims to address problems such as the loss of information between primary and secondary care, as well as the duplication in use of resources and wasted patient time, as people are often asked for the same information multiple times, leading to delays in diagnosis or treatment and poor resource allocation.

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