The government's long-awaited Information Strategy on Health and Care, published yesterday, is the first step in a "genuine cultural shift" in the NHS, says Service chief executive Sir David Nicholson.
At the heart of the Strategy, entitled The Power of Information, is using information and technology to put people in greater control of their health and care, say Ministers. Through the initiative, more data is being published to support people in making meaningful choices based on issues such as success rates for treatment and infection control, while a new online portal will give people access to trusted health and care information, wherever it was created.
The Strategy also opens up information to consumer groups and IT specialists outside the NHS so they can produce tailored websites and apps for different patients. By providing this information to creative experts, the government says it expects to see new products and services being offered to patients.
Further elements of the Strategy will make using the NHS easier for patients by providing online access to many of the most frustrating interactions people have with the Service, such as booking appointments. By 2015, patients will be able to book their GP appointments online, helping to end the "8 am rush" for booking appointments on the phone. Other services will include:
- repeat prescriptions and test results will be available online;
- patients' medical records will be available securely to them online and, by 2015, all patients registered with a GP in England will be able to see their medical records on line; and
- in future, patients will be able to contact GP surgeries by email.
The momentum for these changes will be locally-led and include working closely with the voluntary sector to support the needs of those who might not be able to use the web, or have a smartphone or a computer, says the government. The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has agreed to work in partnership with patient groups and other professional organisations to lead work on supporting people to access services and their records electronically, and from 2013, the NHS Commissioning Board will be asked to work with the RCGP to promote this work.
"As the case studies in the print and online versions amply demonstrate, successful innovation is being driven at a local level, led by nurses and doctors who see how technology can improve care," says the government.
Also, in future, it is planned that all care homes should use barcode medication, which greatly improves patient safety by reducing the number of prescribing errors.
Commenting on the Strategy, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said that by pushing ahead with the government's information revolution, it can ensure that every NHS patient will be able to say that "no decision about me was made without me."
"The internet has revolutionised how people shop, bank and travel, and for too long health and care services have not been part of that revolution,” said Mr Lansley. "If people are going to be able to choose, with their doctor, which hospital will provide them with the best care, they will need all the latest information. Our plans will ensure that they get this from their doctors as well as online from websites and cutting-edge apps," he added.
NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson emphasised that information is "critical" to the transformation of the NHS. "This commitment to the Information Strategy and the adoption of new technologies and ways of working are the first steps in a genuine cultural shift in the NHS that will enable the Service to work at its most efficient and give patients real power and choice," he added.
The NHS Confederation emphasises that the Strategy is key to the NHS reform programme, and warns that, "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," said Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar.
In order to avoid "another high-cost information strategy failure," the NHS needs a change of approach, said Mr Farrar, and the keys to success are: - informatics must be central to NHS leaders' thinking, and not left to informatics specialists; - improved information will require a better relationship between the NHS and its commercial suppliers, and the implementation of new technologies; - information must become central to patient decision-making processes; - financial allocations and incentives need to be aligned so that implementing the new strategy provides NHS organisations and service users with appropriate rewards; and - implementing the Strategy should be viewed as "business-critical rather than desirable."
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the Strategy contains positive improvements which should benefit patients, but cautioned that it would need to be carefully implemented so that it did not jeopardise patient confidentiality.