NHS Reveals Plans To Go ‘Paperless’ By 2020

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Plans to stop the NHS being reliant on old technology get dusted off in drive for efficiency and cost savings

The NHS has dusted off its plans to ditch the use of paper within England, and has set a deadline of 2020 to achieve this ambitious target.

The goal was announced by Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s National Director for Patients and Information, when he addressed NHS leaders at the NHS Innovation Expo Conference in Manchester earlier this week.

New Approach

Each NHS trust apparently spends between £500,000 and £1million per year on paper, including the cost of storing it and moving it around the NHS network.

The NHS logo on a signSenior NHS management want to achieve the paper-free at the point of care goal by 2020, but in order to reach that target, local health and care organisations have to begin work now. This is because by April 2016, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have to submit delivery plans for how they will eradicate the use of paper in their region by 2020.

“Health and social care services in England must end the unnecessary reliance on paper in the treatment of patients,” said Kelsey. “It’s key to making services safer, more effective and more efficient.”

“Every day, care is held up and patients are kept waiting while an army of people transport and store huge quantities of paper round our healthcare system,” he added. “This approach is past its sell by date. We need to consign to the dustbin of history the industry in referral letters, the outdated use of fax machines and the trolleys groaning with patients’ notes.

“As well as saving precious resources, technology can dramatically reduce errors,” said Kelsey. “Urgent action is a moral imperative where paper is the currency of clinical practice.”

The NHS is also investigating the potential of converting the entire NHS estate into a free Wi-Fi zone.

This is not the first time that the NHS has plotted the paperless idea, after Health secretary Jeremy Hunt mooted the idea to make the NHS “paperless” back in early 2013.


Track Record

The ambitious goal to achieve a paperless NHS will no doubt be a cause of worry for government bean counters, as the NHS does not have a glowing record when it comes to IT projects.

In 2011, the government axed the costly £12.7 billion NHS Programme for IT (NpfIT), thought to be the world’s biggest civil IT programme.

That NpfIT project had faced fierce criticism over its rising costs, the removal (or sacking) of two IT providers, as well as the management of the entire NPfIT programme. It was initially budgeted for £6bn, but subsequently burgeoned to more than double that amount.

The idea behind NPfIT was to move the National Health Service in England towards a single, centrally-mandated electronic care record for patients. It also planned to connect 30,000 general practitioners (GPs) to 300 hospitals, providing secure and audited access to these records by authorised health professionals.

But by 2011, the then Coalition government had enough of the spiralling IT costs inherited from the previous Labour government and pulled the plug on the NpfIT project.

To be fair, the current NHS management is well aware of its reputation with IT projects.

“The NHS needs to get over the idea that we’ve had too many false starts and we can’t do information technology,” said Kelsey. “While bringing our own systems into the digital age, we must do more to help the public and clinicians take advantage of the game-changing opportunities on offer to improve outcomes for patients.”

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