Trusts will be able to bid for a share of a £260m fund to finance e-prescribing and real time patient record keeping systems, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced today.

NHS England patients and information director Tim Kelsey, speaking exclusively to HSJ, said trusts would be expected to match fund their bid and spend the money within a year.

The introduction of such systems would improve patient safety and be an important step towards for trusts towards full electronic patient record systems, he said.

NHS England had opted to focus the fund on e-prescribing and the real time electronic systems because these were the biggest priorities clinicians had flagged up, Mr Kelsey added.

He told HSJ: “The two biggest priorities that doctors are telling us they have in improving the safety and quality of care in hospitals are the ability to safely prescribe on the ward and [the need for] real time ward-based observations on their patients.

“We are saying to the clinical communities, ‘We will put some money on the table if you take leadership of the technology revolution in your hospitals’.

“Both of those things are part of an important cultural change towards completely safe digital healthcare. Electronic records are the ultimate goal but we are going to start with areas which deliver immediate, real clinical value to the patient. “

A Department of Health statement today said electronic prescribing “means computer generated prescriptions sent by doctors directly to pharmacies, linked to barcodes unique to each patient”.

It added that errors are present in around 8 per cent of hospital prescriptions, which could lead to harm and deaths, which could be substantially reduced by the introduction of digital systems.  

The fund will also be used for creating electronic systems which link to patient records and alert clinicians if measurements entered on ward rounds indicate a patient’s condition is deteriorating.

Further details of the fund will be published in coming weeks, and a consultation will begin next month on what data will be required from care providers from April 2014.

“This will be a much more comprehensive [requirement] than they are currently providing,” Mr Kelsey said.

“From April 2014, we will be expecting hospitals to start the deployment of electronic records and that will become a contractual obligation for them.” 

Mr Hunt said in a statement today: “This fund will allow doctors and nurses to make the NHS safer by harnessing the very latest technology.”