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NHS records to be fully digital by 2018, says Hunt

By Richard Johnstone | 16 January 2013

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced plans for the NHS to become paperless by 2018, in a move he said could save billions of pounds a year while also improving services.

Setting out a number of targets for the health service in England to improve its use of information technology today, Hunt also said patients should be able to access their digital health records by March 2015.

He said this would mean a patient’s medical history will be available at the touch of a button by whoever needs them, whether a GP, hospital or a care home.

By April 2018, digital information should be ‘fully available across NHS and social care services’, also including electronic prescribing, he added.

The announcement comes as a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the potential benefits of IT in the NHS, commissioned by the Department of Health, was published. It found that £4.4bn could be saved by introducing text message updates for negative test results, alongside introduction of electronic patient records and electronic prescribing.

The creation of the digital patient record was one of the key targets in the previous government’s National Programme for IT in the NHS. However, this was not in place before the coalition government announced the ‘dismantling’ of the scheme in September 2011.

Hunt today said the NHS must learn from previous failures, but added the health service ‘cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution’.

He is expected to set out further steps to introduce technology into the NHS in a speech to the Policy Exchange think-tank later today.

‘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 added.

‘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. Only with world-class information systems will the NHS deliver world-class care.’

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