• No date set for completion of rollout as some rural practices will need infrastructure upgrade
  • DHSC has previously pledged to have 70 per cent of NHS organisations on fibre optic by August 2020
  • Matt Hancock says staff are being “let down by outdated and unreliable technology”

Fibre optic broadband will soon be rolled out across all GP practices and hospitals, the Department of Health and Social Care has announced.

Speaking at the launch of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ technology manifesto yesterday, Hadley Beeman, chief technology advisor to Matt Hancock, said all NHS organisations will be set up with fast broadband “as soon as humanly possible”.

The DHSC has not set a date to complete the rollout, as organisations in rural locations may not have the infrastructure necessary to support fibre optic broadband. The DHSC, NHSX and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will work together to upgrade rural practices and hospitals using slower copper cable internet.

The DHSC has previously promised 70 per cent of NHS organisations would have fibre optic broadband by August 2020. 

The upgrades are being funded in part by the Health and Social Care Network Marketplace, managed by NHS Digital. The DCMS will fund new connections in rural areas.

In a statement, Matt Hancock said NHS staff are being “let down by outdated and unreliable technology”, with a third of organisations using internet “that can sometimes be little better than dial-up”.

During the conference, Ms Beeman added: “The Health and Social Care Network Market Place is enabling organisations to get connectivity and better value for money.

“Seventy per cent of organisations are due to have fibre by August 2020, but we must get 100 per cent as soon as the local infrastructure is in place… It will mean faster access to lab-based information and test results, high resolution images, digital tools and services, improving patient safety and speeding up appointments.”

“Not acceptable, not safe”

Also at the conference, the RCGP revealed its new technology manifesto. This calls for “urgent investment” in modernising technology in GP practices, including introducing a single, shared electronic patient record.

Chair of the RCGP Helen Stokes-Lampard said GPs are “ready” to embrace new technology opportunities but practices need “modern, digitally enabled premises” before they can move forward.

She added more than 50 per cent of GPs say their practices are not fit-for-purpose, while 80 per cent say their practices are not fit for the future.

Professor Stokes-Lampard said: “Yesterday in surgery my systems crashed twice in the morning, because it was a Monday morning, and everyone was back from holiday, and our system just could not cope with a full house of clinicians. Not acceptable, not safe.

“We need a single electronic patient record that everybody can link in to. Something we can trust, something all of us can sign up to. Something that patients can access.

“It’s somewhat of an embarrassment that we are lagging behind neighbouring countries like Finland and Estonia when it comes to the quality of the technology that we are using. They use shared care records, so can we.”