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Health Secretary promises NHS £4.2bn to go 'digital'

Ponder: How much paper was used to promise paperless NHS?

National Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised £4.2bn investment to "bring the NHS into the digital age," part of an attempt once again by the department to force the service to go paperless.

Apparently the cash pile will allow patients to book services and order prescriptions online, access apps and digital tools and choose to speak to their doctor online or via video link rather than in person.

By 2020, 25 per cent of all patients with long-term conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer will be able to monitor their health remotely, said Hunt.

The government will also allow access to the Summary Care Record in urgent and emergency care and in pharmacy settings and is developing a new click-and-collect service for prescriptions.

NHS-accredited apps will be made available to those who want them and GPs will be able to get quicker updates and analyse health trends, which will in turn lead to more timely care, it said.

It will set a minimum target of 10 per cent of patients using online systems or apps to access GP services by March 2017.

In the spending review last year, UK chancellor George Osborne promised £1bn to achieve a paperless NHS by 2020 – although Hunt had previously said in 2013 the NHS would rid itself of paper by 2018.

Now that money has been topped up by using existing funds and some new money, said a spokesman. He was unable to provide a breakdown of the "new" cash pot.

However, attempts to "digitise" the NHS to date have been less than successful. Last year the NHS' security-flawed Apps Library was finally shelved following widespread criticism of the site.

Plans to anonymise and share patient information via the Care.data scheme have also been severely delayed following public outcry at the lack of proper consultation over the plans.

Announcing the latest plans, Hunt said: “The NHS has the opportunity to become a world leader in introducing new technology – which means better patient outcomes and a revolution in healthcare at home.

“On the back of a strong economy, and because of our belief in the NHS and its values, we are investing more than £4 billion across the health system to ease pressure on the frontline and create stronger partnerships between doctor and patient.”

The funding is expected to include £1.8bn towards creating a paper-free NHS and providing interoperability for clinicians; £1bn for infrastructure, cyber security and data consent; £750m to transform out-of-hospital care, including digital primary care; £400m to allow the NHS to become digital, including the website (NHS.uk), apps, free Wi-fi and telehealth; and £250m for data for outcomes and research.

An IT strategy is expected to be published by the National Information Board shortly. ®

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