Matt Hancock: 'We are overhauling GP IT systems'
Health secretary Matt Hancock
Connectivity. Adaptability. Interoperability.
If you asked any GP in the country to write an IT Christmas wish list, I’m prepared to bet these three ‘gifts’ would be right at the top. They may not sound particularly exciting choices but, when it comes to improving the efficiency and scope of health tech for practices and patients, they might as well be gold, frankincense and myrrh.
My big wish? I want our amazing NHS to become the most technologically advanced health and care system in the world. Now, while investing in cutting edge Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and genomics is important and exciting - we need to get the basics right first.
The best health tech innovations have the simplest intent – to make life easier.
There is often an urge to get ahead of ourselves with clever devices and processes, but the focus must always be on better health outcomes.
GPs are the bedrock of the NHS – they are the first point of call for patients and do an incredible job in managing an ever-increasing workload.
But I have seen first-hand how frustrating their IT systems can be. I’ve watched staff use multiple computers to transfer simple, but crucial, information to hospitals and social care providers.
I’ve listened to staff complain time and again about inadequate, slow and out-dated systems which simply add to their workload and limit time spent with the people they want to help.
The irony is that GP practices are far more digitised than the rest of the NHS – but the problem is their systems are completely incompatible with other organisations and cannot talk to each other.
We are in this position because the IT market for GPs is dominated by two main providers, stifling innovation and creating unhealthy and expensive dependencies. Many practices are tied into long-term contracts with companies that have no incentive to design systems capable of communication across the entire NHS.
This must change. We are overhauling this protectionist approach to create an open, competitive and fair market which will encourage the best technology companies to create digital solutions that work across primary care and social care.
New strict technical standards will demand that all systems used by GPs and NHS organisations are compatible with each other, permit speedy exchange of information, and maintain the highest standards of data protection and patient confidentiality.
But this is not a top-down approach. We are clear that GPs must have control over the systems they use, and they should be designed to meet the user need. GPs know best what is needed in their practice – so each new advance should support not compromise their unique local knowledge and experience.
They must also have complete confidence that these advances are continuously upgradable.
We will end contracts with any supplier which cannot meet these requirements and refresh our standards regularly to make sure we move with the times.
This is the beginning of a truly digitised, integrated and person-centred NHS which will focus as much on prevention and detection as treatment and ongoing support.
So, let’s double down on advances in technology to liberate general practice from laborious admin, duplication and delay and empower them to deliver the very best care.
Let’s build faith and trust in how we collect, interpret and use patient data to create safe, secure and reliable frameworks accessible to all those tasked with saving, prolonging and enhancing lives.
Above all, let’s find the fastest, most effective ways to deploy cutting edge technologies that deliver better outcomes for patients, health and care professionals.