Getting information and technology right is fundamental to the future sustainability of the NHS, better patient outcomes and manageable staff workloads. In 2018, the BMA undertook a survey on NHS IT, which, alongside a number of focus groups around England, showed there are serious deficiencies within current systems.
Obsolete technology such as fax machines are still routinely used across the NHS but, despite the apparent lack of modernisation in many NHS workplaces, this is a fast-developing policy topic.
These deficiencies result in additional staff workload and stress, compromised patient safety, plus frustration at the increasing amount of attention being given to innovations such as artificial intelligence and assistive technologies. Whilst they are keen to be heavily involved in the co-production of technological innovation, doctors initially wish to prioritise functioning, interoperable systems that are essential for safe care, improving patient outcomes and enabling innovation to flourish.
The BMA's paper sets out doctors' vision for IT in the NHS and is a direct response to the Department of Health and Social Care's own vision: 'The future of healthcare: our vision for digital, data and technology in health and care'. It also incorporates commitments from the NHS Long Term Plan, which talks in depth about innovation and IT, and the presumptions employed by Health Education England's Topol Review, which explores how to prepare the healthcare workforce, through education and training, to deliver the digital future.
Our recommendations include:
- Prioritising the digitisation of all patient records swiftly and safely
- Digitising both primary and secondary care settings at the same time to enable system developers to build interoperability into all systems
- Ensuring enough new, ring-fenced resources are allocated for digital transformation to enable implementation of upgraded and new IT systems
- Developing national minimum IT standards / principles, e.g. interoperability, efficiency, improvements in care etc, in collaboration with staff representative bodies and experts to ensure consistency of approach across local areas when procuring new technology
- Making digital health care a requirement of medical training and education for existing and future doctors working in the NHS
- Balancing the encouragement of a culture where innovation can flourish, appropriate evaluation and sharing of the outcomes.
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