This site is intended for health professionals only

Hancock’s Half-Cocked Hour

dr richard cook duotone 3x2

So Matt Hancock likes tech, is what I have learnt so far from his brief tenure as the new incumbent overseeing the inevitable.

I think we are on the same page, just in a different book in a completely parallel universe.

He seems to be reading ‘the NHS made simple – how to impress your mates with a few flashy apps’, while the rest of us are wading through the thickest of tomes entitled ‘how to manage the complex needs of a nation, with no money, no staff and no backup’.

I’m not sure he really gets it. I would love to be able to control my sphygmomanometer from my smart watch, and perform a rectal examination robotically from my car using only AI and my virtual reality mask, but in actual reality, these are not my main priorities. The problems we have are basic, and have not been addressed over the last five years by any overlapping plans, forward views or health secretaries. Maybe his new tech advisory board well help because it certainly won’t be getting bogged down with any frontline clinical input to slow down the tecchies.

Recently he has been talking about the importance of genome sequencing and having this available in the medical record. According to the health secretary, this is ‘part of our bold aspiration to sequence five million genomes in the UK, using ground-breaking technology to do this within an unprecedented five-year period’.

Hancock is on the search for sophisticated tech innovations when really he should be looking to plug the gaps, strengthen the workforce and build bridges with staff 

You can’t fault his enthusiasm, but I’m left a little nonplussed at the five-year promise. Will this mature before or after the 5,000 extra GPs I wonder, because we’re certainly going to need those numbers to help decipher the genetic code for our patients.

We use the medical record every day. An up-to-date, summarised record is such an important tool to help provide appropriate care – but it doesn’t need to be complicated. For example, a message to update us of any outpatient appointment in the last two months would be a good starting point, as I’m getting a bit fed up of the look of disbelief on patients’ faces when I have to explain five times a day that we are working in the dark DESPITE THE FACT THEY WERE TOLD THE LETTER WOULD BE EMAILED TO ME THE NEXT DAY…

So our intrepid Hancock is on the search for tech innovations to build the ‘most dynamic health-tech ecosystem on the planet’ when really he should be looking to plug the gaps, strengthen the workforce, and build bridges with staff to provide a safe environment for patients.

Whenever I see his name now, I just can’t help thinking of the wonderful Tony Hancock, creator of the BBCs Hancocks’s Half Hour, who was always willing to help. If you haven’t seen Hancock’s The Blood Donor from 1961 it is worth a watch on the internet:

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Something for the benefit of the country as a whole. What should it be, I thought: become a blood donor or join the Young Conservatives?

‘Anyway, as I’m not looking for a wife and I can’t play table tennis, here I am.’

I don’t know if the Hancocks are related (it would be wonderful if they were) but they certainly share some strange ideas about the expectations of NHS services; it’s just that one is pure comedy gold, and the other sadly passed away in 1968.

Dr Richard Cook is a GP in west Sussex