Wachter: more money is needed for a digital NHS

data on a tablet

A government-commissioned review has warned that more money is needed to achieve a digital health service.

Professor Robert Wachter’s review, Making IT work, published today (7 September), says a ‘digitally mature’ NHS can be achieved by 2023, but not without extra funding.

The report acknowledges that government funding in this area is ‘generous’ in light of recent austerity conditions, but adds that it’s ‘not enough to complete the entire job’ and that slightly more than £3bn would be required to achieve a paperless NHS.

The review states: “We believe the target of ‘paperless by 2020’ should be discarded as unrealistic. The goal is not paperless – it is improvement facilitated by having information where it is needed and when it is needed.

“Our advisory group was very concerned that an aggressive push to digitise the entire secondary care sector by 2020 was more likely to fail than succeed.

“Regarding timing, we have set 2023 as a reasonable date to have robust clinical information systems in all NHS trusts.”

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt had originally stated an ambition for a paperless NHS by 2018, but this was pushed back. As for the report itself, Wachter’s recommendations were made to ministers some months ago, but publication was delayed by the EU referendum’s Purdah period, which was followed by the summer recess.

The review comes as the health secretary is expected to announce later today, details of a new online NHS 111 service that will allow patients in England to enter symptoms online and receive tailored advice or a call back from a health professional.

The Wachter report makes 10 recommendations:

  • Carry out a 'thoughtful, long-term national engagement strategy'.
  • Appoint and give appropriate authority to a national chief clinical information officer.
  • Develop a workforce of trained clinician-informaticists at trusts who are treated as senior managers.
  • Strengthen and grow the CCIO field and health IT and clinical informatics more generally.
  • Allocate more national funding.
  • While some trusts may need time to prepare to go digital, all trusts should be largely digitised by 2023.
  • Link national funding to a viable local implementation/improvement plan.
  • Organise local/regional learning networks to support implementation and improvement.
  • Ensure interoperability as a core characteristic of the NHS digital ecosystem.
  • A robust independent evaluation of the programme should be supported and acted upon.

Access the full report, Making IT work: harnessing the power of health information technology to improve care in England, on the Gov.uk website.

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