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GPs go forth

Matt Hancock: 'We are overhauling GP IT systems'

Health secretary Matt Hancock

matt hancock

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. 

Readers' comments (12)

  • There are whole days when I can’t access the Internet on my work PC; when it does work, it is slower than dial-up Internet. We have to pay for our own WiFi network on the side to have any reliability.

    Additionally I lose between 15-60 mins per day due to EMIS crashes and I can’t access any clinical letters from a 4-5 year period because Docman has stopped functioning since an update. We have been waiting for IT to fix these issues for a couple of months but it hasn’t happened yet.

    I don’t want AI, video consultations, etc. I just want to be able to read and write notes, access letters/results, and use the Internet without the system crashing.

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  • Hope they consider the safety impact of data loss occurring during all these superfluous migrations...

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  • GP IT is not needing an overhaul. GP it systems are years ahead of hospital IT systems. Having 2 main players makes it more likely that these systems will be able to 'speak' to each other, not less. Get hospitals to computerise first. Constant migrations cause some serious losses of data. AI?!? Don't make me laugh.

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  • Mr Hancock please don't, the GP systems are fine. There are so many issues in primary care but really this is not one of them. We are light years ahead of the hospitals and they would do well to learn form our example. We have had the two main players in the market which means most of us can work together across shared platforms and this has increased our ability to work as bigger units. I know that IT is your interest and that is fine but please trust me when I say this is NOT the problem you think it is is, it is not the problem that needs fixing. PLEASE leave it alone.

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  • Our front end is sort-of OK compared to hospital IT but there are problems which would benefit from a fix to the arcane underlying infrastructure. The biggest issues are speed and stability. Trying to shovel video consultations through these systems will cause a melt down. What we need urgently is bandwidth not fancy AI and more screens. The software we already have is adequate but needs to run faster, more reliably and transfer data without fail. GPs should not be expected to be data controllers, liable for information hosted outside of the practice - this is unfair. Hospital IT is a whole different ball game and a total liability whenever our systems come into contact with it. If you really want to fix General Practice though the single biggest issue is restoring funding (in real terms) to what it was a decade ago and if you want GPs to take on more hospital work then the resources need to follow the patient to allow that work to be done safely and effectively.

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  • Dear Mr Hancock,

    This article saddens me. You are obviously being poorly advised. You say that " but the problem is their systems are completely incompatible with other organisations and cannot talk to each other. "

    This is not true. Other comments on here show this. All that is needed is a small investment to buy software to complete the connectivity and improve network speed and robustness. A full overhaul will be damaging, potentially putting patients at risk

    I have been involved in GP IT for over 25 years and have advised at a national level. My LinkedIn profile gives detail.

    Perhaps Pulse would be able to arrange contact between us so I can give you some better information,reducing the cost of your ideas to improve NHS IT and making them more focused and more succesful.

    Dr Trefor Roscoe FFCI
    Medical Information Consultant

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  • I'd like to reflect this back on you, Hancock, and request a complete overhaul of you and your idiotic and incompetent colleagues in politics.

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  • And will all this advanced IT make our cancer survival rates the same as in Germany?

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  • Dear Mr Hancock,
    You are right about the problem, that we need better IT, but you are so wrong about the solution.
    The main issue GPs face is pathetic bandwidth due mainly to the crap and expensive deal offered by BT which is simply not fast enough to run IT systems with remote servers. Apart from that GP IT is ok though personally I find that very few systemone practices have adequate summaries.
    GP IT was world leading when it started in the late 1980’s due to a few bright guys and GPs making informed choices which made EMIS the most popular system. In contrast centrally mandated systems like GPASS were a failure.
    You do not need to make all doctors use one system, what you need is interoperability and choice, and a massive effort on broadband.
    And by the way, it’s hosptals where IT really is a disaster.

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  • 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. This "new "approach by the Health Secretary seems all do do with ideology and marketisation of health care and its provision.

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