The government has established a £260 million fund to help more National Health Service hospitals get up to speed with electronic prescription technologies and cut drug errors.

The move, which comes on the back of recommendations in the Francis report, is designed to accelerate the switch from increasingly redundant paper-based systems for patient notes and prescriptions to electronic ones and, according to the government, is a "critical stepping-stone in helping the NHS go digital by 2018". 

According to the Department of Health, at least 11 people died in the NHS last year because they were given the wrong prescriptions. In fact, errors are present in as many as 8% of hospital prescriptions it says, and claims that studies have shown that the use of technology can reduce these by 50%.

Hospitals will be able to bid for a portion of the cash to fund projects - primarily relating to electronic prescriptions carrying barcodes unique to each patient - designed to improve safety and care by reducing medical errors.

The fund will also be used to create and install electronic systems that "talk to each other right across hospitals" to enable immediate access to patient information.

"Expanding the use of electronic prescribing of medications in hospitals will help improve safety, save lives and save taxpayer’s money," said Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of NHS England, commenting on the move.

Jim Burke, head of Accenture health in the UK, agreed that the fund "can really drive an improvement in patient care". But he also warned "care needs to be taken to make sure the money is not squandered in simply upgrading current silo technology", according to HealthInvestorUK.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced back in January plans to get patient medical records online by March 2015 and part of a fully connected health and social care service by 2018.