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Paperless NHS ‘will save £4.4 billion’, says Hunt

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt will challenge the NHS to adopt all of the aspects of the Government’s IT strategy and achieve a ‘paperless NHS’ by 2018 in a move that can save £4.4 billion, according to the Department of Health.

The estimated savings figures were presented in a DH-commissioned report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that moves towards greater electronic prescribing and electronic patient records could improve care and allow health professionals to spend more time with patients, and as a result could save a potential £4.4 billion in the system. However, this was dependent on all aspects of the Government’s ‘IT revolution’ plans for the NHS being fully implemented, it added.

Hunt will spell out the measures to acheive these savings at the Policy Exchange think tank today, most of which he hopes to see in place by March 2015. He will call for: patients to be given online access to their own health records held by their GPs; adoption of paperless referrals, with GPs being able to end out emails rather than letters when referring a patient to hospital; plans to enable secure linking of electronic health and care records wherever they are held, which will follow individuals, with their consent, to any part of the NHS or social care system; and, by April 2018, for digital information to be fully available across NHS and social care services.

Mr Hunt will say: ‘The NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution. 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.

‘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.’

PwC warned that the success of the rollout will be dependent on a will to invest in one-off technology as well as new ways of working, the willingness of system bodies to adopt the technology and there being incentives to adopt IT, especially when it requires working in coordination with other parts of the system.

However, Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the GPC’s IT subcommittee and a GP in Wimbledon, south London, branded the savings estimations as ‘complete rubbish’.

He said: ‘It is complete rubbish. No one has ever saved any money by implementing an IT system. And again, whoever has had an IT system which has been sustained by a single, one-off investment? They require significant running costs. These are all good things, and GPs welcome the vast majority of them. But don’t let anyone think that these will result in saved money. And they rarely save time. But don’t get me wrong, what it will do is make the NHS more efficient and making the NHS more efficient is the more realistic agenda than saving money.’

However, he added: ‘General practice is already very well computerised so it is not general practice that needs it, it is secondary care that needs it. What we need is electronic clinical communication, a full rollout of the GP-to-GP programme [to transfer records between practices], and we need secondary care to get as computer-enabled as primary care is, because they are sending us complete rubbish.’

The DH is proposing for a new DES on patient online access to form part of the 2013/14 GP contract. Subject to consultation, the plans are expected to be implemented from 1 April despite GPC warnings that online access to patient records may lead to them ending up in the wrong hands.