• DHSC owned company wants to create a “national cloud based repository” of scanned in paper GP and hospital patient records
  • Records to be processed in a massive Newcastle warehouse and uploaded to Amazon Web Services
  • Senior NHS sources cast doubt on the scheme, saying it is not in keeping with the national digital strategy

A new NHS national service has been set up to scan billions of pages of patient records and upload them to Amazon Web Services. 

NHS Business Services Authority has an agreement with AWS and has moved into a 58,0000 sq ft warehouse in Newcastle to manage the new service aimed at digitising primary and second care records en masse.

In a statement, the arms length body said the ambition was to create a “national cloud based repository for GPs’ Lloyd George files”, and hospital paper records that could then be accessed through a browser.

However, several senior NHS IT sources told HSJ that scanning large volumes of historical paper records was not a good use of scant IT funding, with only select files, such as images, usually needed for future treatment.

One senior NHS source also said the new service was “not in keeping” with the new health and social care secretary’s vision for more modern digital NHS.

Separately, speaking at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester on Thursday, NHS chief clinical information officer, Dr Simon Eccles, highlighted the issue of mass scanning of paper documents.

“We have been hidebound by reproducing paper forms into electronic systems and believing that is going digital, yielding none of the advantages that technology can deliver.”

Martin Kelsall, the Business Services Authority’s director of primary care services, told HSJ that the scanning service was not about digitising records as much as freeing up space taken by paper records and cutting costs.

For now, NHS organisations will need to pay for scanning and uploading, but Mr Kelsall said they would see big savings by reducing storage space and staff time physically transporting hefty paper files. 

“In trusts, there seems to be a genuine desire to scan the documents and it makes sense as a financial decision,” he said.

The authority is already helping North Bristol Trust scan about 60 million pages of patient records, roughly a third of its total, although the electronic versions would still be stored in the trust’s own database, not AWS.

Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group has also hired the authority to scan 25 million pages of GP patient records. Mr Kelsall said talks were ongoing as to whether these records would be stored on AWS or locally.

NHS Business Services Authority runs several high volume administrative health schemes for DHSC, such as the NHS Pension Scheme in England, administering the European Health Insurance Card scheme, and managing dentistry payments.

The new service could be critical for the authority, which is having one of its core functions, the scanning and payment of paper prescriptions for pharmacists, eroded by the migration to electronic prescribing.

Mr Kelsall said this has left the organisation’s paper scanning operation, the largest focused on healthcare in Europe, with extra capacity.

He told HSJ: ”As prescriptions become electronic, we now have the capacity to help other NHS organisations deal with their paper challenges. Medical records are an obvious starting point. And given we are the NHS servicing the NHS, the whole process of engagement is easier, faster and cheaper compared to using commercial third parties.”