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NHS will be paperless by 2015, says commissioning board

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e6888 (Published 12 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6888
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. 1London

Paper records should be “eradicated” from the NHS as early as 2015, the NHS Commissioning Board’s national director for patients and information has said.

Tim Kelsey said he was “pushing” for a switchover to digital records by the end of 2015 and admitted it would be a “bold” move.

But a senior figure at the NHS Confederation said the deadline could prove “too ambitious” as some working practices could be hard to change.

Kelsey, a former Sunday Times journalist who co-founded the Dr Foster organisation that publishes consumer guides to UK health services and comparative health data online, spoke at the Healthcare Efficiency through Technology Expo in London on 9 October.

He said the commitment to a paperless NHS would be in the NHS Commissioning Board’s new operational mandate which the government is expected to issue soon.

This would mean an end to referral letters and “lost” patient records, he said.

He said, “The time has come to fully unleash the power of information technology in health and social care. The NHS needs to become a modern knowledge service.”

He said it was a realistic aim for the NHS to give up using paper by the end of 2015 although this deadline was not yet specified in the mandate.

“I think with hard work we can get somewhere very meaningful by 2015,” he told the conference.

Kelsey said he was “incredibly privileged” to be able to influence the future direction of the NHS, in terms of the take up of information technologies and patient involvement, and that the NHS Commissioning Board would implement plans that would “finally nail the data infrastructure.”

He said that from April 2013 the NHS would routinely “extract” more data from primary care. The NHS would be able to track patients more effectively as data linking primary and secondary care would be made more widely available.

Also, from next April, the NHS will launch a “multichannel platform” bringing together NHS Choices and the 111 non-emergency service, which will allow people to order prescriptions and book GP appointments online.

Commenting on his speech, Frances Blunden, senior policy manager at the NHS Confederation, said trusts were doing some “really good work” to modernise their systems and reduce their paper load.

“However, some working practices can be hard to change, and for a health service as large as the NHS 2015 may be too ambitious a deadline,” she said.

She told the BMJ, “It is important to remember that many people who have the highest healthcare needs have limited or no access to internet or mobile phone technology. So while the NHS has to do more to embrace online technology, we also have to do much more to make sure those people are not left behind.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6888

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