NHS to get £500 million for “digital transformation”

The NHS is about to get a boost to its woefully underserved tech division courtesy of a £487 million cash injection from new health secretary Matt Hancock. As part of his early priorities, he pledged nearly £500 million to initiate digital transformation projects across the NHS.

In his first speech as health secretary, Hancock talked up the potential for technology to not only save time and money but improve patient safety and outcomes. It’s not entirely clear just what technology we’re talking about here – don’t expect AI doctors just yet – but some brief strategies were outlined.

More than £400 million will go towards new technology in hospitals aimed at boosting patient safety and making it easier to access health services from home, he announced before an audience at West Suffolk Hospital last Friday. An additional £75 million will be made available to trusts to install new systems that increase efficiency and allow clinicians to spend more time with patients – with a target to reduce clinical errors by 50% versus the old paper systems.

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“For too long, decisions on health and care have seemed to involve a trade-off – improving patient outcomes at the expense of placing ever more pressure on staff, while reducing the demands on staff has been seen to have an impact on patient care,” he said.

“Technology and data innovation offers an opportunity to move past this binary approach.”

Hancock highlighted the “instructive” use of Babylon’s controversial NHS GP app, a free healthcare app for NHS patients, as an example for how technology can transform healthcare. He also cited the deployment of ‘patient barcode’ tracking system Scan4Safety in six hospitals as a system that he claims has already saved £8.7 million.

In partnership with Amazon, meanwhile, the NHS Choices service can deliver advice via voice-activated devices – particularly beneficial to visually-impaired users, who won’t always have to book a GP appointment.

The new health secretary also stressed the importance of joining up data across the health and social care system, echoing NHS Digital’s commitment to fund data-sharing projects.

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The health service’s digital arm last month invited organisations working with the NHS to apply for £1.5 million in funding that will support projects that ease the flow of data between clinical and social care bodies, and focus on using machine learning-powered tools to boost early intervention.

“Emphatically the way forward is not to curb the technology – it’s to keep improving it and – only if we need to – change the rules so we can harness new technology in a way that works for everyone: patient and practitioner,” Hancock added.

“Not only can the right use of technology save time and money, it can improve patient safety.”

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NHS Digital has announced a slew of smaller, separate initiatives over the course of the year geared towards transforming aspects of the health service.

For instance, last month it committed £720,000 to support local councils’ digital innovation pilot projects to help social care recipients. This preceded an announcement that NHS Digital would seek private healthcare data to augment its own patient records – and improve the accuracy of the data the NHS holds.

Elsewhere, prime minister Theresa May earlier this year pledged millions of pounds to use AI to improve early diagnosis of cancer and chronic disease.

In a speech delivered earlier this year, May also called for the industry and charities to join the NHS in creating algorithms that can predict a patient’s care requirements based on their medical records and lifestyle information.

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