Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has set out a digital vision for the NHS at the NHS Expo held in Manchester this week.
In his speech, Hunt pledged that every NHS patient in England should be able to access their medical records and book GP appointments through an app by the end of 2018.
The app will also allow patients to access NHS 111 services, order repeat prescriptions, express their organ donation preferences, express their data sharing preferences and access support for managing long-term conditions, all by the end of 2018 – the 70th birthday year of the NHS.
By enabling patient access to medical information and services the next 10 years will be the ‘decade of patient power’ Hunt said.
Pilot schemes are now underway and will be evaluated before a potential national roll-out.
Jeremy Hunt said: “If the NHS is going to be the safest, highest quality healthcare system in the world we need to do technology better. So today I am setting 7 challenges which, if we achieve them, will make the NHS a world-beater in the care of people with long term conditions.
People should be able to access their own medical records 24/7, show their full medical history to anyone they choose and book basic services like GP appointments or repeat prescriptions online.
I do not underestimate the challenge of getting there – but if we do it will be the best possible 70th birthday present from the NHS to its patients.”
Hunt referenced successful services and apps such as MYCOPD which helps patients manage their condition. He also spoke about the range of digital health services and the importance of ensuring that they are operating at the same standard as the rest of the NHS. To help ensure this the Department of Health has launched a consultation about expanding the number of providers included in the CQC’s rating systems
Imelda Redmond, National Director of Healthwatch England said: “The vision set out by the Secretary of State directly addresses what patients and the broader public have told Healthwatch they want from a modern NHS, and is a huge step forward in ensuring all of us get the sort of integrated service we have come to expect in many other areas of life.”
Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital, commented on Jeremy Hunt’s announcement, saying: “We welcome the Secretary of State’s clear vision for the provision of technology services which will empower citizens to access NHS services and manage their health. Good digital services will make care safer and more accessible and free-up more time for doctors and nurses to spend with patients.
“We are already working intently towards the delivery of these outcomes and have made substantial progress, in areas including enhancing 111 Online and NHS.UK and launching Acute and Mental Health Global Digital Exemplars.
“We are committed to achieving the targets outlined by the Secretary of State, by the end of 2018. This will be great cause for celebration at the end of the NHS’s 70th birthday year.”
Some believe however that other steps also need to be taken if the NHS is to work to its full potential.
Andrew Gardner, CEO of digital healthcare company DoctorLink, commented: “The secretary of state for health’s ongoing support for digital solution providers is of course welcome news, but harnessing technology to benefit the NHS can only be a good thing if it’s done with patients, doctors and other hard-working NHS staff in mind. Offering seamless access to appointments as a gift the NHS can give to patients on its 70th birthday should only be the cherry on the cake. It’s long overdue support for NHS staff, who work tirelessly each day to provide excellent care, in the face of ballooning patient demand that is urgently needed. And needed now, not in 2018.
Unlocking the latent capacity that’s consumed by the staggering number of unnecessary patient appointments taking place every day is one way. Adapting patient behaviour, ensuring that GPs aren’t always the first port of call, bottlenecking primary care, is another. Technology that does just this already exists, no robots or exaggerated claims for AI: Happy 69th birthday NHS. Across the country, clinically approved and NHS specific digital triage is already helping surgeries better manage demand – and can do more – empowering patients to find the right care for them, whether that’s a GP appointment at their surgery or indeed home care, but most importantly helping GPs find more time.”