The NHS's troubled relationship with technology

A man uses his smartphone The public are used to having most aspects of their life just a click away. But in the NHS it is a different matter

When you think how technology has reshaped everything from the way we shop to how we communicate with friends, the lack of progress made by the NHS is astonishing.

While booking holidays and doing the weekly shop online has become routine for many, making appointments to see a GP in such as way has not.

And in an era when companies hold a host of personal information, the fact remains an ambulance can still respond to an emergency call, ferry a patient to hospital but doctors will still have little knowledge of their medical history.

Since the 1990s report after report has called for more innovation.

But time and time again the NHS has failed to live up to expectations - at least in the way the health service interacts with patients and shares information (a much stronger case can be made for its use of technology in areas of medicine, such as robotic surgery).

The £12bn NHS IT project is a case in point. Launched in 2002, it was meant to revolutionise the way technology was used in the health service by paving the way for electronic records, digital scanning and integrated IT systems across hospitals and community care.

But more than a decade on it the national programme has effectively been disbanded with many of its ambitions yet to be realised.

Local parts of the health service - hospitals and the new GP-led groups - have now been asked to push ahead with the changes and the speech by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday is an attempt chivvy that along.

Some progress

Admittedly, progress is being made in some areas.

Telehealth and telecare, which covers everything from specialist equipment to help a patient monitor their condition to sensors in the home to detect falls, has been piloted quite successfully in several areas.

But the number of people benefiting is still limited to the tens of thousands.

Meanwhile, online appointment booking is at least two years away and some of the most innovative ideas deployed in other countries are but a distant dream.

For example, in the US electronic bracelets are in use that can be scanned by doctors enabling them immediate and easy access to the patient's medical history.

And as the NHS plays catch up, other sectors continue to push the boundaries of what is possible.

It poses the question: Why?

Julia Manning, chief executive of the 2020health think-tank, says the lack of success in embracing technology is "crazy".

She believes the barriers are related to culture more than anything else.

Indeed, the private sector has often complained that the commissioning and purchasing systems in the NHS have proved too complex to encourage innovation.

The NHS IT project was the government's attempt to apply some central control.

But after that struggled the NHS is back to devolving responsibility down to a local level.

Everyone will be hoping the health service is more successful from now on.

Nick Triggle Article written by Nick Triggle Nick Triggle Health correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Failure of NHS IT is probably easy to explain because it shares the same features with many other failed IT projects.

    1. Specification by a centralised committee not by users
    2. Many changes in specifications.
    3. Minimal attempts to involve clinicians
    4. Over reliant on bespoke software.

    Take a simple example - Patient records. Fundamentally this is nothing more than a very big database

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Surely a major part of this has to be MPs.

    The scope of projects gets changed, changed, changed again. New technologies are introduced before the project is complete and then altered because of cost cutting / requirement changes / because the minister wants to stamp their name on it.

    Just like the Edinburgh Tram fiasco, really.

    Expensive, poorly designed and never quite reaches the goal

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The first step in successfully achieving a task is to sufficiently understand what is needed

    Then you need to employ suitably experienced/qualified organisations & be able to explain it to them

    This is why many government contracts fail in IT/Defence/railways

    Incompetent (& unaccountable) people in charge who do not understand what is required, making selections based solely on lowest bidder

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Having worked in NHS IT and left to return to the private sector I echo all those comments on poor management, lack of direction, poor outsourcing contracts , badly trained staff, incompetent procurement and no post implementation planning. NHS IT is a complete shambles but some companies have got very rich on it.The amount of hardware bought and never used is incredible. NHS & IT - no chance

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    1. luddite1955 "the IT industry is making another concerted effort to subvert the NHS budget for its own ends."

    Unfair. Invariably NHS bosses/politicians have no clear idea about what's needed or feasible or they change their minds constantly and so push up costs. They also go to the same companies every time but that's not the fault of the IT industry that's just a rubbish procurement process.


Comments 5 of 134



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