Jeremy Hunt: Why we will not repeat Labour's mistakes on NHS IT spending
Jeremy Hunt MP is Secretary of State for Health and MP for South-West Surrey. Follow Jeremy on Twitter.
Every day, all over the country, patients are failed by the disgracefully inadequate condition of IT across the health and care sector. They deserve better – as do the staff who are working tirelessly to care for them. Last year we set the NHS a challenge of going paperless by 2018. Today I have announced £1 billion of new investment in IT.
The appalling condition of much of the current IT infrastructure is not just a huge burden on NHS finances. It threatens patient safety, frustrates staff and is an unnecessary pressure on A&E departments. It is shocking to hear stories of elderly dementia patients turning up at A&E with no-one able to access their medical history. Meanwhile terrible mistakes can occur when patients are given drugs they don’t need or may be allergic to because their paper notes have been lost. Nurses and patients fill in umpteen forms with the same information because the same hospital may have a dozen or so electronic systems. District nurses have to spend time filling in notes and travelling to and from the office when they could be seeing patients.
Labour’s disastrous £13 billion NHS computer scheme comprehensively failed to address all this. Instead, Labour’s project saw spiralling costs, bungled management and little or no return for patients or staff. Overdue and over budget, it was a gargantuan, one-size-fits-all solution that proved as unworkable as it was costly. Today’s announcement builds on our radically different vision – innovation driven by local healthcare providers working in the interest of patients. Individual providers will bid for our support in driving these local solutions.
For the first time, patients will be able to book GP appointments online while those using GP surgeries and out of hours doctors will be treated by somebody with access to their records. Unnecessary diagnostic tests will now be avoided as A&E departments get access to patients’ records. Doctors and nurses will be able to dedicate more time to the hands-on care of patients, whose experience will improve beyond recognition. This money will be well-spent, and the better service it will fund will be more cost-effective. We only need to look at the outstanding service offered by the first-movers within the NHS to see the difference this makes for patients.
Enabling the best practice to blossom across the rest of the NHS and social care sector will transform the experience of millions of patients. Critically, it will also be a major step towards ensuring the sustainability of the NHS – transforming productivity, safety and accountability in support of staff and patients.