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GPs’ diagnostic skills could be obsolete within 20 years, says Hunt

The health secretary has claimed that GPs in 20 years’ time will not have to make diagnoses due to increasingly powerful diagnostic tools, and the NHS must position itself to be ready for the technology when it becomes available. 

Speaking at a fringe session at the Conservative party conference on Monday, Mr Hunt informed delegates that Silicon Valley tech ‘gurus’ were confident diagnosis by humans would be obsolete within two decades.

He also said that this would open up an exciting new prospect for medicine where problems can be identified and tackled before they even become symptomatic, although he did concede there was a lot of work to do to make this a realty.

Mr Hunt has long championed wider adoption of technology in the NHS, and at the same session he reminded delegates of his pledge to make the NHS paperless by 2018 – conceding that despite best efforts there may be ‘one or two bits of paper floating around’ by the deadline.

The health secretary was responding to a question on how the NHS can win the public’s trust for record-sharing initiatives, in the wake of the botched rollout of the GP record-sharing scheme, which has been delayed since early 2013.

Mr Hunt said that the Government still had to win the trust of the public, but added that technological developments were ‘exciting’. 

He told delegates: ‘If you talk to technology gurus in California and ask what’s going to change in the next two decades, they say “in 20 years’ time, no doctor will ever give a diagnosis”.

‘They say “You can get 300,000 biomarkers from a single drop of blood, so why would you depend on a human brain to calculate what that means when a computer can do it for you?”.

‘I think it’s really important that we’re ready in the NHS to harness the power of data to give us more accurate diagnoses, in particular with that example.’

He added: ‘What’s happened in medicine for the last two millenia is that you wait until you have a symptom and then a doctor tries to interpret the symptom.

’What this will mean, is we can identify problems before they’re symptomatic and therefore have a much better chance of tackling them. So it’s a pretty exciting prospect but there’s lots of work to do.’

NHS England recently produced an animation outlining its digital vision for the NHS, including health apps that upload information directly to the GP record and telehealth consultations.

Readers' comments (111)

  • This is why I love the RMT and the other trade unions. No one can spew this mischief on them! The BMA is weak, the colleges are asleep and so the health secretary has a free day to speak like this. This is not language that should be used by a health secretary!

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  • First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.


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  • I remember all the 1970's programmes that predicted machines would do all manual work and we'd have lives of enforced leisure by the 1990s. It didn't happen and neither will Mr Hunt's prediction

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  • This Guy is health secretary of uk.
    I wish the computer genius Dr Google could take a drop of blood from this genius and tell us if he has a brain or the nerve between brain and tongue is cut .
    i would not be surprised if he closes all medical schools in uk and invests that money on a computer software to diagnose patients

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  • Listen, forget the elderly, the future (20years, I am told) will be that magical blood test done at birth which will predict approx 750 diseases that the little soul will possibly succumb to. Our time will be completely taken up dosing all these little ones with statins, ace, b blockers, metformin, immunotherapy, gene therapy etc in the hope, government sources have informed us, that life expectancy will plummet to avoid any pensions being paid....these think tanks know it all!

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  • we all agree that Mr Hunt is not only the worse Health Secretary the UK has ever had but he does not have any scientific knowledge or even common sense. He sees this with the eyes of any primary school student. We all GPs should do something to stop this deluded man destroying the NHS

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  • Just goes to show what a tenuous grasp Hunt has concerning clinical care.

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  • Mr Hunt is a wind up merchant and many are rising to the bate. Are there any intelligent and stress-free GPs left out there ???

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  • oh dear , the perils of watching star trek and tommorrows world in childhood lead to geeky know it alls who believe in the super predictions of science-fiction and pseudo-science. the last resort of lazy thinkers and fantacists!
    I Knoow!! lets just get teleported at warp speed 1 into the future where they have leatrnt to cure everything, and then we wont need medecine, just a bit of homeopathy.

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