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Hunt promises to expand NHS digital services

Patients will be able to register with a GP, and access records and medical advice via phone

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 07 September 2016

Jeremy Hunt has announced new plans to fast-track digital excellence and improve the digital skills of the NHS workforce as part of the expansion of digital technology across the NHS. He said that, in response to Bob Wachter’s review of NHS technology, he will establish 12 new global exemplars to pioneer best practice and a new academy dedicated to training NHS staff in digital skills. The Health Secretary said the planned new digital services will also mean that from their smartphone or tablet, from the end of next year, patients will be able to register with a GP, access their healthcare records and get medical advice.

Mr Hunt detailed his plans this morning at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester. He said the NHS Choices website will relaunch as NHS.UK and include a fuller range of online patient services – including allowing patients to register with a GP online, see and book appointments, and monitor and improve their health. It will also allow them instant online access to their health records including prescriptions and test results, and allow them to download their personal records.

The existing NHS 111 service will be expanded to include a new online triage service for people with less serious health problems on which they will enter their symptoms online and get tailored advice or a call-back from a healthcare professional according to their needs. NHS England will launch a library of ‘approved’ health apps that it has assessed, as well as offering advice on other wearable devices. And from today, patients will be able to use the MyNHS website to find better data about the performance of NHS services on dementia, diabetes and learning disability services; later this year, data will be included on maternity, cancer and mental health services.

Jeremy Hunt said the ‘global exemplars’, partnered with an international organisation of their choice, will pioneer best practice, will receive up to £10 million to improve staff training, and will be expected to deliver pioneering approaches to digital services and help others in the NHS to learn from their experience. Mr Hunt said universities will be invited to host the new NHS ‘digital academy’, helping to train NHS staff in delivering digital healthcare.

The global exemplar trusts will be: City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust; Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust; Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust; Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust; Luton & Dunstable University Hospital NHS Trust; West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust; Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust; Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust; University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust; and University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. There will also be funding for a further 20 trusts to become national exemplars.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker warned that the Health Secretary’s plans should be continuously and rigorously evaluated, considering patient safety, accessibility for those less comfortable with technology, and the impact on NHS resources. She said: “Reputable health websites, such as NHS Choices, can be a really useful source of information for patients, so plans to enhance this service is positive. But taking this one step further, and asking patients to use an online tool when they are ill in lieu of describing their symptoms to someone over the phone, who is trained to ask the right questions, should be approached with extreme caution.”

She added: “Technology can lead to huge benefits for patient care, but moving a service online doesn’t necessarily mean it needs fewer resources. NHS 111 centres – online or telephone - will still need to be staffed appropriately to meet demand, and have sufficient numbers of healthcare professionals who are trained to deal with serious – and not so serious – medical conditions.

“If this pilot is to go ahead, it needs to be continuously and rigorously evaluated, with patient safety at the forefront.”

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