Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Technology

Finally, the NHS goes digital. Or does it?

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 13 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3726
  1. Stephen Armstrong, freelance journalist, London, UK
  1. stephen.armstrong{at}

The NHS is 20 years behind the private sector in its use of technology, and a long way behind many of its doctors and patients. Now there are plans for a dramatic catch up. But will it work? Stephen Armstrong reports

The NHS, the government hopes, will be an entirely digital organisation in five years’ time—from patient records to specialist appointments, online general practitioner consultations, and rigorous data trawling to predict and prevent unnecessary deaths. It’s a bold vision—as outlined in the National Information Board’s complex Personalised Health and Care 2020 framework, published in November 2014.1 The problem is no one seems entirely clear how it will work, when it will work, and if it will achieve the benefits that the information board predicts.

Delegates at the King’s Fund digital health and care congress last month heard a series of optimistic positioning statements from NHS England.2 Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information, outlined plans for free wi-fi across the NHS and for patients to be able to view and control their full health records online and access increasing numbers of digital health services. He also planned to extend the provision of remote care through online platforms and enable doctors and nurses to access “the most up-to-date lifesaving information wherever they are in England by 2018 for primary, urgent and emergency care services and by 2020 for all other NHS funded services.”

With administration taking up roughly 70% of a junior doctor’s time, Kelsey argued, on the spot wi-fi will free up more time with patients, make it easier to track down patients’ records, and allow wearable wi-fi connected monitoring devices to be used in hospitals. He cited the 20% of patients with diabetes who have experienced a largely avoidable hypoglycaemic episode while on the ward and …

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