A prescription worth waiting for? PM says technology will treat over-stretched NHS

Published 1/10/2019 by Ric Thompson, Managing Director, Health & Care, Advanced

This week, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the government’s 10-year plan for the NHS. While the plan - as you might expect - has received criticism, it is largely an encouraging and much-needed move for the UK. It sets out to focus on prevention rather than cure, easing the immense burden facing NHS professionals working in hospitals, GP surgeries and in the community.

The plan will see funding boosted by £20.5 billion a year by 2023-24 to ensure that patients are supported with world-class care at every stage of their life.

To name a few measures, it will ensure that the NHS is able to provide the best maternity care in the world, support ageing and increasing independence, and improve outcomes for all major physical and mental health conditions. An overview of the plan can be seen here.

A truly digital NHS

What’s encouraging is that the plan includes a major focus on technology. It will bring the NHS into the digital age, rolling out new technologies to deliver improved access to NHS services. It comes as three million patients a month are now waiting over three weeks for a GP appointment. The new plan will mean everyone in the country will have digital access to their GP – whether that be to use an app to talk to a doctor, or make an appointment or manage prescriptions online.

In addition, the plan sets out to cut waste across the NHS through introducing new digital techniques and making back office savings of more than £700 million across the NHS.

During her speech, Theresa May hailed the benefits of technology in the health and care sector, saying: “…I wanted to see the NHS make greater use of technology, not only to make healthcare safer and more effective – but to make the most of exciting new possibilities and give you greater control over your own care. That means everything from being able to monitor conditions from the comfort of your home, to accessing your GP via your smartphone.”

And rightly so because, as noted in a recent TechMarketView article, the plan cannot succeed without investment in technology. Delivering on the ambitious plan will require close collaboration between healthcare providers, IT software and services suppliers and, of course, patients too. This is where organisations like Advanced come in. As a respected developer of technology for the NHS for over 20 years, we are working hard to help ensure the UK can meet this target.

We strongly agree that a more integrated network of technology will help drive the best possible outcomes and services for patients. Changing demographics and rising costs of delivering effective healthcare all mean it is essential for the NHS to reimagine itself as an organisation that can provide patient data at the fingertips of every health and care professional.

How we’re helping the NHS digitally transform

Ultimately, then, acceleration in digital transformation across the NHS – through long-term partnerships – is critical for improving the health of our nation. And it’s actually already starting to happen. At Advanced, we are proud to be a part of so many of these innovative projects.

We are working with NHS England and NHS Digital, for example, to introduce an Electronic Prescription Solution in integrated urgent care services. It allows patients seeking care out of hours or urgent care (such as walk-in centres and minor injuries units), or advice through NHS 111, to have their prescriptions sent electronically to a pharmacy rather than relying on paper prescriptions. This will mean doctors are freed up to spend more time on patient care.

We are also working with a range of organisations including West Midlands Integrated Urgent Care Alliance and One Health Lewisham to deploy our Ask NHS app, a ‘virtual health assistant’ that empowers patients to self-assess in preference to contacting a health service. The app uses an evidence driven clinical decision support system, Odyssey, to guide self-assessment of acute symptoms, the provision of self-care advice, and triage to the most appropriate services, all of which help to reduce the burden on overstretched NHS workers.

In addition, technology already exists to connect multiple venues of care safely and seamlessly across the NHS. We work with NHS England, with our Docman technology, to safely transfer millions of clinical documents and discharge summaries every year – with three million items of patience correspondence handled every week. This is helping 40 million patients annually, saving GP practices seven hours per day.

All of these projects are already allowing for much better integrated care, bookings of GP appointments and, in some cases, the ability to prescribe – all taking pressure off stretched GP and A&E services, and potentially being much more convenient and safer for patients.

The bottom line is that we are confident the government’s 10-year plan will supercharge the NHS even further into digital innovation, and we will continue to support the nation’s much-loved health service in achieving its goal. Granted, it’s not perfect – and nor will it ever be – but we are encouraged to see the NHS strive to drive efficiencies, free up time for patient care and save costs.

The pressure on our NHS services has become a catalyst for change, and it’s resulted in a plan that sees technology as the key to reshaping how things are done. Now let’s all just get on with it.