Digitisation of processes could reduce bureaucracy and support transformation in NHS care, a new report says
If I lose my job, it is most likely because I am going to throw my computer out of the window, given the amount of time that doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals waste waiting for IT to work, or for systems to talk to each other so that I know what is happening in my ED.” Dr Andrew Goddard, Royal College of Physicians
The parliamentary health and social care committee has urged the government to work on digitising NHS and care services as part of a strategy to tackle the Covid-19 backlog.
Published last week, the committee’s report, Clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic, discusses the knock-on problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic to other services. One of the ways of addressing these problems, it says, is to use the Wade-Gery report on digital transformation, published in November, “as a platform to make further progress on the digitalisation of NHS and care services.”
The report welcomes the Spending Review commitment to investing £2.1bn in technology and data, and says there is “enormous potential for technology to support a transformation in NHS care that will bring benefits for patients and staff alike.” However, it adds that the potential will not be realised “while many providers still struggle with basic IT infrastructure”. Noting that about a fifth of NHS trusts still rely on paper processes, it says that NHS England should produce its roadmap in response to the Wade-Gery report as soon as possible.
It also recommends that NHS England publish its planned evaluation of the role of digital tools in primary care “at the earliest opportunity” and use it as a basis for producing best practice guidance on “reducing bureaucracy and day-to-day IT administration tasks, including those associated with referrals, routine blood tests, and follow-up appointments” and “the use of remote consultations in general practice.”
NHS England should look beyond primary care, it adds, and consider “the impact of an increased usage of such tools not only on patients, but also on other parts of the health and care system, especially at the primary care and secondary care interface.”
While acknowledging that the desire to prioritise the elective backlog is “understandable”, the report expresses concern that “a focus on those areas most amenable to numerical targets risks deprioritising other equally important areas such as primary care, community services and mental health services which all play a crucial role in keeping people healthy and out of hospital.”
Noting the frustrations that poor IT causes for many health professionals, the report quotes Dr Andrew Goddard of the Royal College of Physicians: “If I lose my job, it is most likely because I am going to throw my computer out of the window, given the amount of time that doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals waste waiting for IT to work, or for systems to talk to each other so that I know what is happening in my ED.”
The report makes a number of other recommendations, including that the government undertake an urgent review of short-term recruitment and retention issues within the health and care workforce, and that it uses the introduction of integrated care boards (ICBs) as an opportunity for local integration and innovation.