[London, UK / Implementations] - The NHS Information Strategy The Power of Information, which lays out actions required to transform our health and care services over the next ten years, has been met with a largely positive response from the healthcare sector since its launch last month – a far cry from the response to the National Programme for IT (NPfIT). But the question on everyone′s lips, of course, is, “How are we going to put it into practice?”
This was exactly the question addressed at an industry stakeholder meeting in London on Tuesday organised by Intellect, the trade body for the UK′s technology sector. Titled The power of information: from strategy to action, the event brought together around 140 leaders from the health and care community — from senior NHS managers, to frontline clinicians and carers, to suppliers and innovators. And this was done for a reason: “This is a collective strategy, dependent on the efforts and will of the entire health and care community to make it happen,” said Intellect Director General Julian David in the invitation to the event. “The DH are keen to get the community′s views and commitment to take this strategy forward.”
Speakers from several key stakeholders - including the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of General Practitioners and the NHS Commissioning Board — shared their views on what needed to be done to deliver the Strategy, then the floor was opened for discussion.
The need for the voluntary sector
It quickly transpired that the issues that needed to be addressed to help progress the plan were as cultural as they were technological. Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of health and social care charities coalition National Voices, for example, spoke of the need for the voluntary sector “to be part of the agitation” around patients being able to access their records; and for the necessity for industry members to emphasise to patients the clear benefits of being able to communicate with the NHS online.
But it was as much about changing the culture within the NHS as outside of it. Dr Imran Rafi, Medical Director at the Royal College of General Practitioners (and a Surrey GP) spoke of the low GP take-up of technology. There was, he said, a difference between the technological capability of many GP practices and what was happening in reality: with 70% of practices having the facility to allow online access to medication and to order medication online, and around 27% of practices having enabled that facility. It was the same with online access to medical records: with about 53% of practices around the country able to offer that facility, but less than 1% actually doing so.
A clinical and a business benefit
Why was GP take-up so slow? Feeling threatened by the new technology and feeling (often wrongly) that it would be an administrative burden rather than benefit to the practice, were cited. But there were, of course, advocates: “Some clinicians have pioneered this technology; it′s been doctor-led and patients have come to see the benefit of it and to value it enormously,” said National Voices′ Jeremy Taylor. “But they′re a minority. The clinical community at large remains to be convinced that there is both a clinical benefit and a business benefit to linking up access to records.”
Then there was the need to encourage “a culture of transparency” as stipulated in the Information Strategy. And part of this was to challenge the resistance to sharing healthcare information, to ensure that the relevant healthcare professional had access to the relevant information when they needed it for patient care. There was also a need to challenge the view of technology as a blocker rather than an enabler.[ts]
1. Vox Pop on British Journal of Healthcare Computing on the Information Strategy for views from three very high-profile contributors: Mike Farrar, Chief Executive, NHS Confederation; Susan Hamer, Clinical Lead for Nursing and the Allied Health Professionals at the DH and Professor Iain Carpenter, Associate Director, Informatics Unit, Royal College of Physicians.
2. British Journal of Healthcare Computing: "New NHS Information strategy emphasises patient-centric healthcare records"