A digital and paperless NHS could potentially save lives, health minister Dr Daniel Poulter told delegates at the Healthcare through Efficiency Technology Expo this week.
The government has made a commitment to create a paperless NHS by 2018, in a bid to save £4.4 billion a year.
By March 2015 everyone in the UK should be able to get online access to their health records held by their GP and GPs should be able to refer patients via email, instead of having to send a letter.
"This is a real imperative for us. For not only does good technology bring real benefits, inadequate technology causes huge problems," said Dr Poulter.
"Making records electronic will offset the widespread problem of staff being unable to access the data they need. Forty-four people died in the NHS last year as a result of being given the wrong medicine. Had prescription histories been readily available to hospitals, this number could potentially have been a lot lower."
He added: "So sharing data more effectively is vital. It will increase safety levels, save people from having to repeat themselves whenever they see someone new, improve care, and help us in the hunt for new cures and therapies for killer diseases."
Poulter gave an example of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, which trialled a system where spinal surgery patients recorded on an iPad their progress in hospital after an operation, and then continued doing so online when they got home. This created the capacity for 300 new outpatient appointments per consultant surgeon annually.
He also said that safeguards have been put in place to ensure that patients' data is protected, where staff will receive "first-class training" in information governance, and any data breaches will be "dealt with honestly and immediately".
Designated leaders on information governance are yet to be appointed.
The government has struggled in the past to deliver large IT projects within the NHS and is still paying out hundreds of millions of pounds to suppliers on the failed National Programme for IT.
However, Poulter believes that the NHS will be successful this time because it is allowing for different requirements at a local level, as opposed to imposing a standard system across the board.
"Past NHS IT projects have been famously disastrous," he said.
"A major change this time around is that we are ensuring that the changes are driven locally, by hospitals and GPs. The Health and Social Care Information Centre will give local commissioners much better information. A top-down approach just doesn't work."
Suppliers are seeing an increase in demand
Simon Pettit, corporate director of Stone Group (ICT services provider to the public sector), was in attendance when Poulter delivered his speech and has said that the NHS needs to look to new and innovative technologies to meet the demands of going online.
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