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Starmer pledges to reform the NHS through technology

The Labour Party wants to create an NHS powered by ‘groundbreaking technology’, with genomics testing for every baby, modernising appointment booking and overhaul incentives for tech adoption

Labour leader Keir Starmer has pledged to reform the NHS by taking a digital-first approach, with a focus on prevention and expanding NHS training.

In a speech setting out the Labour party’s NHS reform plans, Starmer said that unless “serious, deep, long-term changes” are made to the NHS, it is unsustainable.

“With artificial intelligence [AI], with personalised medicine, with new vaccines, we stand on the cusp of a revolution that could transform healthcare for the better,” he said.

“My message today is this – science and technology are the game-changers. This is the prize – this is what it gives to us. An NHS where prevention comes first, where care is closer to home, where patients have more control.”

Starmer also pledged to modernise the appointment systems for GPs, aiming to end the “8am scramble” for GP appointments.

Despite the fact that, according to NHS England figures, 99% of GP practices are able to offer video appointments, research by the Improvement Analytics Unit, published in in 2022, which examined data from 146 GP practices in England, found that less than 1% of UK GP consultations occur via video.

“For those who want real continuity of care, we’ll bring back the family doctor; that’s what people with long-term conditions need. But for those who just want a quick appointment at their convenience, who want a digital consultation, we’ll give those patients a different route,” he said, adding: “It can’t be beyond us to offer different options for different people. We’ve just got to roll up our sleeves and get it done.”

Starmer heralded a move from an “analogue to a digital NHS”, offering shorter wating times, better treatment, early diagnosis, and meaningful prevention.

He also criticised the government for not going far enough with the NHS App in England.

“Some 33 million people downloaded the NHS app during the pandemic, and it’s a good app. But that extraordinary opportunity [has] been wasted. Labour would take the app and innovations like i – we would deepen them, expand them, put them in the hands of patients, and use them to transform our relationship with the NHS,” he said.

“Get this right and it means moving to fully digital patient records, never again handwritten patient notes getting lost. It means booked appointments, appropriate self-referral routes, reminders to get check-ups and screening, the latest guidance on treatment, patients in control of their data.”

Labour’s mission statement for the NHS, published in parallel to Starmer’s speech, promised to make the NHS App a “one-stop shop for health information”, where all health and care providers publish into it, but the data is owned by the patient.

It also promised harnessing the genomics revolution, including a system where every baby born can undergo genomic testing to screen for rate diseases or predisposition to the “deadliest diseases”.

“If every family could choose to screen their baby’s genetic information, they’d be empowered to give their child the healthiest start in life,” Labour’s health mission statement said.

It also highlighted the issue around slow and patchy uptake of technology across the NHS, and pledged to create a “comprehensive innovation and adoption strategy”, which includes a plan for procurement, adoption and spread of new technologies, giving suppliers a clearer route into the NHS and identifying which products and services should be procured centrally, and which should be procured through a local approach.

This includes centralised future procurement of data systems for the NHS to ensure they are interoperable between providers and potentially wider public services, with the aim of enabling different parts of the NHS and social care to work in a joined-up way.

Labour also wants to reform the incentives structure for technology adoption by using payment mechanisms that “help teams implement new technologies successfully and quickly, whilst phasing out older options”, as well as working with the CQC to “ensure regulation involves speedy adoption of new technology”.

Other commitments include “the biggest expansion of NHS in its history”, hiring more doctors, nurses, midwives and health visitors, promising better standards, more progression, more rights and better pay, reducing waiting lists and making the NHS a “Neighbourhood Health Service”, treating people early in the community. 

Read more about NHS and technology:

  • Scotland’s five-year strategy for health and social care aims to make it easier for people to access their own health and social care data, improve data flows between organisations, and transform the way data is used to enhance services.
  • As NHS Digital is officially merged into NHS England, Computer Weekly takes a look at the history of the organisation and what the merger could mean for the future of NHS IT.
  • NHS Digital interim CEO Simon Bolton calls for a stronger mandate from the centre around the systems in use in the NHS, with no more than four to six electronic patient record systems used across the country.

Read more on Healthcare and NHS IT

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