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01.09.15

New digital measures to create ‘safer and effective’ paperless health services

NHS England is set to urge health and social care providers to ditch “unnecessary reliance” on paper when treating patients, instead replacing it for “safer, more effective and efficient” technologies.

Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s national director for patients and information and chair of the National Information Board, is set to make the announcement at the upcoming Health and Care Expo in Manchester, which begins tomorrow.

He emphasised that ending reliance on paper is “key” to improving services and added: “Every day, care is held up and patients are kept waiting while an army of people transport and store huge quantities of paper round our healthcare system.

“The approach is past its sell-by date. We need to consign to the dustbin of history the industry in referral letters, the outdated use of fax machines and the trolleys groaning with patients’ notes.

“As well as saving precious resources, technology can dramatically reduce errors. Urgent action is a moral imperative where paper is the currency of clinical practice."

He added that the NHS must do more to help clinicians take advantage of “game-changing opportunities” on offer to improve outcomes for patients, as well as bringing their own systems into the digital age.

It is now encouraging commissioners and providers to adopt modern working practices through new levers and incentives.

NHS England will also introduce new government measures to assess how far healthcare services are supported by relevant technology.

This is part of a wider ambition to make the NHS completely paper-free by 2020.

CCGs working with councils and care providers must submit delivery plans by April 2016 outlining how they will eradicate paper reliance in patient treatments across all services in their region.

This aims to both allow local NHS leaders to spearhead the task of modernising services and to enable CCGs to be held accountable for previously agreed quotas.

Guidance has been drafted to clarify what is expected, including a set of ‘key digital standards’ that healthcare providers must look to implement.

From October, for example, all discharge summaries for acute or day care patients transferring from a hospital to GP care must be completed electronically. Next year this will be extended to include social care discharge.

This will build on trials that have shown granting GP access to instant discharge summaries reduces the risk of error during ‘patient handover’.

From November, CCGs and providers will complete a self-assessment to evaluate their digital services and inform a ‘digital maturity index’, which will paint a picture of the NHS’s technological progress and delineate necessary improvements.  This index will soon become a part of CQC inspections.

In our July/August edition, Bleddyn Rees, who leads the European Connected Health Alliance, argued that ‘digital healthcare’ must soon become just ‘healthcare’.

NHE will be at the Expo in Manchester this week, and will cover the event both online and in our next print edition, September/October 2015.

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