NHS in "jeopardy" unless patient data access improves

Doctor NHS

The NHS faces an uncertain future unless steps are taken to make it easier for patients to access data, and for information to be shared with trustworthy third parties.

Speaking at the Leading the Technology Revolution event in central London yesterday, Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England, said the continuation of the NHS is dependent on making it easier for people to access health information.

"We have a very fragmented healthcare environment, we have some very significant financial pressures, and, I think, an unstoppable tide of public appetite to make more sense of digital information," said Kelsey.

"Seventy-six per cent of us now routinely use the internet, but only two per cent of us have ever engaged digitally with the NHS.

"These are two interesting statistics that hint that we have to embrace this future or we are very seriously going to not only be left behind, but put the NHS in real jeopardy," he added.

He said the fact the NHS Choices website, which was set up in 2007 to provide people with access to unbiased information about their health and well-being, is regularly visited by 30 million unique users a month highlights the demand for online access to this kind of data.

Changes are afoot to make this possible, Kelsey continued, including plans to make GP records accessible to patients online for the first time from the end of this financial year.

At present, if a person requires access to this information, they need to make a formal application to the manager of their GP surgery.

By making it easier for people to do this themselves, the hope is it will enable patients to get a better understanding of why they've been prescribed certain treatments, and help them make informed choices about how to preserve their own well-being.

Kelsey also reiterated that the postponed Care.data initiative will have a key part to play in this process, as well as in helping the scientific community glean greater insights into people's health.

The project, which aims to allow GPs to share anonymised patient data with hospitals, researchers and private companies, was temporarily shelved earlier this year over concerns not enough had been done to make people aware of it.

However, Kelsey said the project was in a "stronger" place than it was a few months ago, before declaring that it has the potential to be the greatest contribution "our generation makes to the sustainability of healthcare."

Kelsey made the comments at the launch of the Sustaining Universal Healthcare: Making Better Use of Information report by storage vendor EMC and Volterra, which sets out how better use of information can reportedly save the NHS between 16.5 billion and 66 billion a year.

This, the report claims, is essential to do as the health service is facing the prospect of a 34 billion funding shortfall by 2020.

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.