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Hunt promises £4bn investment in NHS IT

Government has announced a £4.2bn investment in a ‘paperless NHS’, with money to be spent on electronic patient records, cyber security, apps and Wi-Fi

The government will spend £4.2bn on NHS technology – including apps, Wi-Fi, cyber security and electronic patient records – over the next five years, according to health secretary Jeremy Hunt. 

The figure is significantly higher than the £1bn for new NHS technology announced by chancellor George Osborne in the autumn spending review.

A Department of Health spokesperson told Computer Weekly that on top of the £1bn announced in the spending review, a further £3.2bn is being made available through a mix of new money and money from existing programmes.

The full breakdown of where the cash is coming from and how it will be spent is still being discussed by the DoH and NHS England, but the department expects £1.8bn to be spent on achieving a paperless NHS at the point of care by 2018 and removing “outdated technology”, such as fax machines.

“On the back of a strong economy, and because of our belief in the NHS and its values, we are investing more than £4bn across the health system to ease pressure on the front line and create stronger partnerships between doctor and patient,” Hunt said.

Last year, Hunt announced that within the next financial year, a quarter of smartphone users would be able to access NHS services and medical records, to book appointments and arrange repeat prescriptions using a suite of health apps.

The government has earmarked about £400m of the £4bn funding for the development of apps, telehealth, building a new nhs.uk website and free Wi-Fi across the NHS estate.

The DoH is working with mobile platform providers, including Google, Apple and Microsoft, to “ensure that patient-focused apps are fully supported and patients can access them easily from their mobile devices”.

Offering free Wi-Fi was one of the key recommendations in Martha Lane Fox’s report, published last December, on increasing uptake of digital technologies in the NHS, for which Hunt announced his support.

Some £1bn of the funding will be spent on infrastructure, cyber security and data consent. Data consent has caused much controversy, particularly concerning the Care.data programme, which aims to extract anonymised patient data from GP records to a central database held by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.  

Dame Fiona Caldicott is currently working on guidance on how to word a new model of consent and opt-outs to be used across the NHS, which is due to be issued soon.

Protecting personal data

She is also contributing to a Care Quality Commission review of data security across the NHS, developing new guidelines for protecting personal data, against which every NHS organisation will be held to account.

The sum of £750m will be used to transform out-of-hospital care and help digitise primary, emergency and social care. By 2020, the government’s aim is for the NHS to be paperless at the point of care, to have a fully integrated health and social care system and an interoperable patient record.

A further £250m will be spent on data for outcomes and research.

NHS England recently announced a set of “innovation test beds”, or pilot sites, where new technologies will be trialled, such as an internet of things pilot in Surrey that aims to help people with dementia live at home for longer.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said the £4bn investment has “huge potential to help deliver care tailored to the individual”.

He added: “With two-thirds of people with dementia living in the community, health technology as part of a comprehensive care package can be invaluable in helping people to remain independent and in their own homes for as long as possible.”

Labour’s health spokesman, Justin Madders, told the BBC that Hunt was simply “rehashing old announcements” and instead needed to tell the public “how he intends to sort out the crisis facing our NHS”.

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