Responding to the publication of the Government's NHS information strategy 'The power of information' NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar says its proposals are key to the reform programme, and will require investment and guidance to avoid having another strategy which fails to deliver for staff and patients.
Mr Farrar said:
"Clear and comparable information is vital for creating a responsive and sustainable NHS. It brings enormous benefits to the way patients plan and receive their care and the way they choose their services. Having access to the right information is crucial for clinicians to make the best decisions for patients, and to improve the safety and quality of care they provide.
"Proposals to allow patients to have greater online access to more services is a positive step forward. And encouraging greater use of the NHS number will enable staff across health and local authorities to keep a consistent and up-to-date record of a patient's journey through the service. The NHS now has a real responsibility to deliver on these promises and make the NHS a truly modern health service.
"Improved information systems will help underpin the new system of commissioning and will play an important role in engaging clinicians in the planning, coordination and improvement of local care. Improved data will allow frontline clinicians to understand and address variations in the quality of care they provide and allow them to quickly go to work to bring about improvements.
"This strategy is key to the Government's reform programme, and if it does not succeed there is a real danger the reforms will fail. This programme will require significant investment, support and guidance with clear timelines and desired results. Otherwise we risk losing focus and having another strategy which fails to deliver for staff and patients. Resources - new or existing - will need to be well spent and guarantee value for money.
"NHS leaders are acutely aware that previous information strategies have not succeeded and if we try to implement this work the same way we have done in the past, we will fail again.
"The implementation of this strategy needs national coordination but will require local ownership and responsibility. That balance is critical if we are to be successful. There will not be any second chances for the NHS if we fail."
In order to avoid another high-cost information strategy failure, Mike Farrar says the NHS needs to change the way it approaches this information strategy. He has outlined six points that he says are key to success.
1. Informatics must be central to NHS leaders' thinking. The implementation of this strategy cannot be left to informatics specialists but has to be on the priority list of every CEO and boards of directors.
2. Improved information requires a better relationship between the NHS and its commercial suppliers. NHS leaders need to swiftly move from commercial naivety to commercial maturity. Evidence of improvements in this regard would be risk sharing agreements for new products entering the NHS.
3. Improved information will require the implementation of new technologies. The NHS needs to make these a key part of mainstream business and cannot wait to for them to be pushed into it by national bodies or external suppliers.
4. Information must become central to patient decision making processes. We need to encourage patients to move from being happy with uninformed assumptions about services and choices, to intelligent informed consumers and advocates of services.
5. Financial allocations and incentives need to be aligned so that implementing the new strategy provides NHS organisations and service users with appropriate rewards.
6. Implementing the strategy should be viewed as business critical rather than desirable.