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NHS gets £500m tech boost to overcome ‘binary approach’ to care

The new health and social care secretary has outlined his plans for the future of the NHS, pledging almost half a billion pounds to the technology sector as part of a “transformation” of the health service.

Making his first public speech in the role to staff at West Suffolk hospital today, Hancock – who comes straight from the top job at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport – focused on three early priorities: technology, the health and care work force, and prevention.

Around £487m of funding will be dedicated to technology as part of the NHS’s long-term plan to reduce patient waiting times and lessen the burden on frontline workforces.

Hancock said: “Because we are one NHS, our health system is uniquely placed to become the most advanced health system in the world – one where technology addresses the user need – making care better for patients, but just as importantly making life easier for staff.

“For too long, decisions on health and care have seemed to involve a trade-off – improving patient outcomes at the expense of placing ever more pressure on staff, while reducing the demands on staff has been seen to have an impact on patient care. Technology and data innovation offers an opportunity to move past this binary approach.”

As part of the plan the government will invest £412m into new technology at hospitals, which is expected to improve efficiency, enhance patient safety and help more patients access health services at home.

Outdated technology targeted for the funding includes replacing pagers with smartphone apps, the phasing out of the use of fax machines, and the continued roll-out of Scan4Safety barcode tracking programme in hospitals to trace all patients and their treatments.

A further £75m is available to help trusts put in place electronic prescribing systems, which save money and reduce potentially deadly medication errors by up to 50% compared to paper systems. Bids have been processed for this funding and money will now be allocated to trusts to start putting systems in place.

“This money is just the start, and the entire £20bn proposed for the NHS will be contingent on modern technological transformation,” Hancock concluded.

The secretary of state’s promises come after a series of digital initiatives kick-started by previous boss Jeremy Hunt, who most recently announced a new app aimed at improving access to GP records, appointments and prescriptions by doing away with the “8am scramble.”

Beyond technology – which will even include harnessing space tech to improve health solutions – the NHS has been suffering with a lack of regulations around data sharing, with the major national bodies recently being called on to develop a framework by the end of the year to avoid another Google DeepMind fiasco.

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