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Hunt: I'll barcode sick Brits and rip up NHS's paper prescriptions

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UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to tear up the NHS's clumsy system of printed prescriptions - and instead use "unique barcodes" to dish out medication straight to the poorly.

Under the proposals to hopefully reduce human error, paperwork listing medicines and drugs will be sent directly from doctors' surgeries to pharmacies, bypassing the need for ill Brits to pick up the printed slips and take them to a suitable shop to process.

Patient notes and prescriptions will be stored in a new electronic system, and barcodes unique to each Brit will be used to ensure the right medication for the right person is supplied by pharmacies, we're told.

The Cabinet minister revealed the plan as part of a new £260m taxpayer-funded pot of cash to improve technology used by hospitals, further spinning his grand idea that patients will be better protected by having their medical records stored and processed digitally.

Hunt, who has been pushing for a "paperless" NHS by 2018, claimed the new system will save lives - and said this morning:

In many places, right now, a paramedic picking up a frail elderly woman who has had a fall will not always know she has dementia, because he or she cannot access her notes. Or a doctor is prescribing the wrong drugs, because they don’t know what drugs their patient is already on.

If we are to improve patient safety then we must allow the NHS to have access to the best tools available and this fund will help them achieve that.

To fix that, Hunt said doctors must be able to funnel prescriptions electronically and directly to pharmacies.

"This kind of technology plays a huge part in cutting errors and improving safety," it added.

The Department of Health claimed that errors present in paper-based hospital prescriptions could be halved with the introduction of such a system. Hunt's team said that the multimillion pound fund will also be used to create "electronic systems, linked to patient records, which talk to each other right across hospitals".

His officials added: "St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust already has all of its patient records accessible online for doctors and nurses. New Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham has an online ‘portal’ that allows patients to view and update their own medical records so doctors can get instant, real-time updates."

The department said hospitals will have to bid for a slice of the funds before adopting the new digital system. Those who successfully bag the cash are expected to demonstrate such use of technology can "lead to better, safer care".

As The Register reported in April, NHS patients who refuse to allow their data to be shared across the NHS will be safeguarded by the government.

The Cabinet minister confirmed to your correspondent that 750,000 patients throughout England, who have already opted out of having their data spread around, will be automatically protected from plans to get citizens online access to their GP records by 2015.

"We're not going to cancel the opting out that's already happened. There may be a process of recontacting people to explain the new arrangements and that's a detail which we'll work through in operational terms. But we will respect people who have already said they wish to opt out of NHS sharing," Hunt told El Reg. ®

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