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New digital 'single trusted source' of health and social care info to be set up

Pledge part of 10 year government information strategy published today

Caroline White

Monday, 21 May 2012

A new website or portal that will act as a “single trusted source” of information for the NHS, public health, and social care is to be set up next year under ambitious plans for a digital age unveiled by the Department of Health today.

The Government’s Information Strategy published today sets out a framework for transforming the way information is to be used and created for health and social care over the next decade.

It aims to give patients more control by enabling them to take an active role in their healthcare and improve the quality of care clinicians provide, and includes examples of GP practices, hospital trusts, and providers that have already gone some way down the digital road.

The Strategy promises that patients will be able to access their GP records online by 2015, and eventually view their test results and book or rearrange their medical appointments electronically.

Commissioners and providers will be expected to make sure that anyone who needs it gets support to access and understand information about their health and care, and services across England will have to use IT systems that can work together.

Connected information and new technology will enable clinicians to join up and improve services, and deliver safer, more integrated care by providing faster access to test results in hospitals or by ensuring that the right medicines get to the right person, says the Strategy.

The intention is that electronic care records will progressively become the source for core professional data.

The Strategy commits to creating a new website, or portal from 2013—The Health and Social Care Information Centre—that will act as a single trusted source of information across the NHS, public health, and social care.

Other organisations and the public will be able to access the data, which will include information about the quality and performance of health and care services, and be able to provide instant feedback about services themselves.

The Information Centre will also provide a special secure service that will allow health professionals and scientists to obtain information about the health of the population, with the aim of developing better treatments for the future.

The Department of Health makes it clear that: “The ambition is bold, and it will take time. As with any large service or industry, investment in modern information technology and systems is central to success.

To achieve real benefits across the system for people using services, and for taxpayers, we need a fresh approach to the direct and flexible use of information and IT to address real business needs.”

A small number of actions will be led nationally, such as setting common standards to adhere to allow information to flow effectively around the system. The NHS Commissioning Board, the Health and Social Care Information Centre, and Public Health England will spearhead more detailed implementation.

NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar warned that the Strategy's proposals are key to the reform programme, and would require investment and guidance if they were to succeed.

He said: "This strategy is key to the government's reform programme, and 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. Resources - new or existing - will need to be well spent and guarantee value for money.

He added: “NHS leaders are acutely aware that previous information strategies have not succeeded and if we try to implement this work the same way we have done in the past, we will fail again."

Key factors influencing the success of the Strategy would be the need for informatics to be on the priority list of every CEO and boards of directors, and for a better relationship to be forged between the NHS and its commercial suppliers, he suggested. 

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