Health Secretary leads call for paperless NHS by 2018


Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants the NHS to become paper-free by 2018 by getting healthcare providers to use digital records, text messaging and electronic prescribing tools.

Hunt is expected to set out his paperless vision for the NHS during a speech to think tank Policy Exchange later today.

During the speech he is expected to set the NHS a series of tasks. These include providing patients with online access to GP medical records by March 2015, the introduction of emailed referrals and for digital information to be widely available across the health service by 2018.

In a statement, released before his speech tonight, Hunt said the NHS is at risk of being "the last man standing" by not embracing technology like other private and public organisations have.

"It is crazy that ambulance drivers cannot access a full medical history of someone they are picking up in an emergency and that GPs and hospitals still struggle to share digital records," he said.

"Previous attempts to crack this became a top down project akin to building an aircraft carrier. We need to learn those lessons and in particular avoid the pitfalls of a hugely complex, centrally specified approach."

His comments coincide with the publication of a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report, which states that text messaging, digitised medical records and electronic prescribing tools could speed up consultation times and save the NHS billions of pounds.

The initiative has been welcomed by industry watchers, although it will require investments in new datacentres and security tools, they warned.

Adam Jarvis, CEO of IT services firm Intrinsic Technology, said: "A paperless NHS is a brilliant idea in theory, but it will not be achieved without the latest networks and enormous datacentres.

"They're going to need support from the top down to get an infrastructure in place that can cope with these heavy new demands."

David Bolton, director of public sector market development for EMEA at business intelligence software vendor QlikTech, said the deployment of data analysis tools will also be a must for the NHS.

"[It] needs to be able to harness vast quantities of data to provide information and insight through appropriate analysis, learn from trends and patterns in order to provide the most effective care, while ensuring privacy controls are in place to protect the patient," he added.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.