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NHS must have paperless roadmaps ready by April 2016

Roadmaps on how to achieve the “paper-free NHS by 2020” mandate set out by the government will need to be in place by April next year

NHS organisations and commissioners will need to have roadmaps in place on how to achieve a “paper-free” NHS by April 2016, according to guidance due to be published by NHS England.

The guidance, which is expected to be published at NHS England's Health and Care Innovation Expo this week, will outline how NHS organisations and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), working with local authority providers, will need to develop these roadmaps to deliver a paperless NHS.

These plans will focus local NHS leaders on the task of modernising services and allow CCGs to be held to account for meeting agreed milestones, NHS England said.

This includes an October 2015 deadline for all discharge summaries for acute or day care patients to be completed and sent to GPs electronically. By 2016, this will include patients discharged into social care services.  

Assessing maturity

NHS England’s digital maturity index, which measures NHS trusts’ digital maturity, will be extended to include CCGs based on a self-assessment from each CCG. The digital maturity index will also become part of the Care Quality Commission's inspection regime, said NHS England.

“They will be supported by new measures of ‘digital maturity’ which will track progress, share best practice and be built into routine assurance and regulatory oversight,” said Tim Kelsey, NHS England director of patients and information.

Kelsey, who is also the chair of the National Information Board, said that several “key initiatives” to support the digitisation of the NHS will be launched at the expo, including how to deliver paper-free services at the point of care, access to online tools and improve safe access to data.

“Without interoperable digital data, high-quality effective local services cannot be delivered; nor can we achieve a transformation in patient access to new online services and ‘apps’; nor will the NHS maximise its opportunity to be a world centre in medical science and research,” he said.

Time to leave NPfIT behind

Kelsey also said the NHS “needs to get over the idea that we’ve had too many false starts and we can’t do information technology”, perhaps alluding to the failed NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) and the controversial programme which will see patients’ data extracted into a central database.

“While bringing our own systems into the digital age, we must do more to help the public and clinicians take advantage of the game-changing opportunities on offer to improve outcomes for patients, he said.

The drive to go paperless was first outlined by health secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2013, although the target was then 2018. The revised target date for a paperless NHS was set out in the Personalised Health and Care 2020 plan, published in November 2014. 

In 2012, Hunt also announced that patients would be able to access their GP records, book appointments and order repeat prescriptions online by 2015, a target the NHS actually met with 97% of GP practices offering the services.

More than three million people have now registered for online access to their GP records and more than 3.7 million repeat prescriptions were ordered online in the first quarter of 2015, according to Kelsey.

NHS England is also aiming to improve access to high-quality health apps by piloting a new endorsement model to identify the most effective apps in managing long-term conditions. The government is also looking at the potential of giving patients free Wi-Fi across hospitals and GPs.

NHS England claims that paper storage costs between £500,000 to £1m per NHS trust, while Kelsey said the days of pushing around paper on trolleys are over.

“This approach is past its sell-by date," he said. "We need to consign to the dustbin of history the industry in referral letters, the outdated use of fax machines and the trolleys groaning with patients’ notes."

Computer Weekly management editor Lis Evenstad will be at the NHS Innovation Expo this week. Follow her tweets on @lisevenstad and look out for coverage from the event on

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