The health secretary has promised patients easier interaction with GP practices, as he published the long awaited NHS information strategy today.
The strategy reiterates the government’s commitment to give patients online access to their GP records by 2015.
It aims to set “a 10-year framework for transforming information for health and care”. There is a commitment for the NHS Information Centre to “publishing all nationally held clinical data by April 2014, where possible by clinical team”, and a Department of Health Open Data strategy for 2012-14.
The strategy says the DH does not intend to “reinvent large-scale information systems or set down detailed mechanisms for delivery” but instead “provides a framework and a route map” towards standardisation. Under the Health Act, the DH and NHS Commissioning Board will develop legal standards to bring about interoperability.
Local organisations will be told to appoint lead clinicians with responsibility for information. There will be a series of further changes - aimed at improving use of information - which local organisations and clinicians will be “encouraged” to take up.
Andrew Lansley said it would mean patients being able to book GP appointments online - “helping to end the ‘8am rush’ for booking GP appointments on the phone”, according to a statement. He will say repeat prescriptions and test results will also be available online; and that “it will be possible to contact GP surgeries by email, ending the hassle of calling switchboards and trying to find the right person to speak to”.
The statement says: “By 2015 all patients registered with a GP in England will be able to see their medical records online.”
It is unclear how it will be achieved. The statement says: “The momentum for these changes will be locally-led and include working closely with the voluntary sector to support the needs of those who might not be able to use the web, or have a smartphone or a computer. “This government doesn’t tell nurses and doctors what IT they need to improve care.”
Mr Lansley will also announced a new portal to “bring together health and care information from across the internet so that people can access trusted information”.
Mark Duman, chair of Patient Information Forum, which develops and campaigns for better information, said: “We welcome this information strategy. Rather than being purely about informatics, it recognises that its ambition is underpinned by culture change.
“However, we would like to see more emphasis on training and education of health and professionals to fully support patients and the public in shared decision making.” He also called for commissioners to give “dedicated funding for information products and services”.
Dr Foster Intelligence research director Roger Taylor said: “We welcome the broad aims of the information strategy to give people greater control over their health records and to use technology to drive clinicians’ use of information. While the aims are admirable, the investment and innovation required to make them a reality cannot be unlocked until local NHS organisations and information technology providers have a clearer understanding of the details.
“The strategy currently lacks the necessary detail on how the centre will ensure availability of data in formats that can support innovation and the expected timetable for this to happen.”
National Voices chief executive Jeremy Taylor, who led a review of health information for the NHS Future Forum, welcomed the strategy but outstanding questions remained about, “what will the mechanisms be whereby the aspiration are turned into actions that will make a difference for the ordinary patient and citizen?”
He said: “We welcome this strategy as a strong vision document. What is less clear is how the vision will result in real change – the improvements patients, services users, their carers and families want to see. Charities are eager to play their part, but we also need a clear implementation plan from Government and the NHS.”