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08.12.15

Former UK Digital Champion proposes four reforms for a ‘digital NHS’

The NHS workforce must build its basic digital skills to ensure that every staff member has what it takes to support people’s health needs, Baroness Martha Lane Fox has told the National Information Board as part of a review of the NHS.

The recommendations – commissioned by the health secretary to accelerate digital inclusion in the health service – also included making sure those with the most health and social care needs are prioritised in any digital tools being used across the NHS.

And according to Fox, at least 10% of registered patients in GP practices should be using a digital service, such as online appointment booking, repeat prescriptions and access to records, by 2017.

This would reduce the administrative burned on doctors, nurses and care staff – estimated to take up 70% of a junior doctor’s day – and in turn fostering safer working practices – such as e-prescribing, proven to reduce medication errors by 50%, according to the government.

To tie it all together, she suggested that there should be free wi-fi in every NHS building. This would allow hospital patients to self-monitor their conditions using apps, maintain contact with social network that can support recovery, and help them stay in contact with family and friends.

Doctors are also being urged to refer patients to apps that are proven to work.

As it stands, 33% of those with registered disabilities have never used the internet, and older people often lack computer confidence but have high health and social care needs. Despite this, digital health tools and information can help people manage their health and dodge unnecessary GP visits and hospital admissions.

Fox said: “One of the founding principles of the NHS was to ensure that everyone – irrespective of means, age sex or occupation – should have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up to date medical and allied services available.

“These principles are also the foundation of my recommendations and embedded within my new national organisation Doteveryone. In the network age, universality, equity and quality must be at the very centre of how we build, adopt and scale new technologies in health. No one must be left behind.”

To embed these digital pillars in the NHS, Fox said, it is vital that digital skills are cultivated within the health service’s very foundation – through training, support and mentorship programmes rolled out locally, regionally and nationally.

All of her recommendations are now being considered by the National Information Board, but have already secured the support of its chair, Tim Kelsey, who said: “Digital health tools can dramatically improve people’s lives and wellbeing.

“These bold challenges to the system, to ensure that every person in the UK benefits, are very welcome, and will galvanise work already underway to put power in the hands of patients, enabling them to take control of their care and improve their health.”

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt – who has time and again spoken out about his vision for a digital, paperless NHS – also supported Fox’s recommendations.

(Top image c. The Open University/Flickr)

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