History will probably be much kinder about the national programme for IT than current sentiment. The recognition the NHS was lagging behind in the adoption of technology and needed significant investment to catch up quickly was the right decision, at the right time.

NPfIT did not fully deliver on that promise, although it did provide more than is normally acknowledged, and as a result the default mode of describing it as another government IT disaster has held sway.

One of the most negative consequences of this attitude is that politicians (of all colours) have shied away from championing the NHS’s need to employ new technology or from pointing out that the gap identified by Derek Wanless in 2002 still yawns. Jeremy Hunt should be congratulated for putting the issue back on the agenda.

‘Hunt is aware other sectors have transformed their efficiency through greater use of IT and asks why the NHS is not moving faster’

The health secretary cannot endorse a top-down approach like that taken through NPfIT − it would run contrary to the devolution of responsibility inherent in the reforms. He also, of course, has no money.

It is that funding pressure which lies behind Mr Hunt’s enthusiasm for technology. Yes, he wants a modern NHS − but he would like a financially stable one even more.

Technological step change

HSJ understands the health secretary is convinced the NHS can only deliver the efficiency savings it requires by pushing through a step change in the use of technology.

Mr Hunt is aware that other sectors have transformed their efficiency through greater use of IT and asks why the NHS is not moving faster in that direction.

He is also likely to argue that greater use of technology can help tackle health inequalities. Rather than opening up a digital divide, IT can provide more cost-effective services for many, leaving more resources for those without access to the web.

Given all this, the health secretary will be concerned that HSJ’s latest analysis shows how technology is integral to very few QIPP plans. He is unlikely to be content to let this situation continue.

Expect to see a range of incentives and penalties introduced to “encourage” healthcare providers to increase their pace of technology adoption.

It would not be surprising, for example, to see the automatic updating of electronic patient records after treatment made a requirement for all providers of NHS services before the next election.