Plans to roll out the use of digital technology in the health service could result in efficiency savings up to £10bn by 2020, work conducted for NHS England has estimated.
The national body will today publish plans which aim to make the NHS fully digital by 2020, including new regulatory powers and allowing patients to write in their care records from 2018.
It follows the Personalised Health and Care 2020 proposals that were put forward by the National Information Board last November, and officials will now begin gathering views from “leaders and influencers” before a final publication in September.
Another key part of the plan would enable regulators to take action over NHS organisations not meeting standards, but several new considerations have also been added since November.
These include the possibility of turning the entire NHS estate into a free wi-fi zone, with officials saying this could massively reduce the administrative burden, by enabling greater use of hand-held devices by doctors, nurses and care staff.
It could also allow patients to be tracked through hospital and monitored with wearable technology to help detect deteriorations.
Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s national director for patients and information, told HSJ the “median” potential savings figure for the work had been calculated as £10bn, but he stressed this was an estimated figure. The full projected savings are due to be published with the report.
Asked how much investment was needed to implement the plans, he said: “There’s already a substantial amount spent [on technology in the NHS] but we need to work out whether further investment is required. That work will be done over the summer, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t investment needed.”
He admitted the objectives, including a commitment to deliver paperless services for urgent and emergency care by 2018, are “challenging”, but said they are still on track to be delivered on time.
NHS England said there has already been significant progress to increase the use of technology in the last year, with 97 per cent of GP practices now offering patients the chance to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view a summary of their GP records online. A third of all ambulances now share their records digitally with A&E doctors.
Other new aspects of the plan include a new apps library featuring digital tools focusing on tackling obesity; and plans to allow every patient to register for a GP, book appointments, order prescriptions, access apps, speak to their doctor online and view their health record through the NHS Choices website.
Earlier this year, HSJ revealed that only £43m of a £240m integrated digital care fund was being allocated, following funding pressures on frontline services. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted the rollout of the fund was being staged, rather than cut it in absolute terms.
Asked whether he was happy with the current levels of technology funding, Mr Kelsey said: “I’m not quite sure I can answer that question. I’ve been extremely encouraged by the strong commitments being made across the health and care system by the secretary of state and others, to unleash the benefits of technology.”
The National Information Board includes senior figures from the Department of Health, NHS England, regulators and other arm’s length bodies.