But privacy advocates have voiced concern about the plan
The Conservatives have announced more details of a plan to replace significant amounts of NHS IT systems with alternatives from the private sector including online health record managment products from Google and Microsoft.
In a statement released today, Tory leader David Cameron said that the technology could be used to revitalise the NHS and improve care. “As patients, we want to know we’re getting the best possible care; as taxpayers we want to know we’re getting value for money: technology, well-applied, can create opportunities for both in a decentralised NHS,” he said.
The proposals laid out by the Conservatives include plans to:
- Seek to dismantle Labour’s central NHS IT infrastructure, delivering its benefits through local systems instead.
- Halt and renegotiate the contracts Labour have signed for IT service providers to prevent further inefficiencies.
- Stop imposing central IT systems on the NHS, instead allowing healthcare providers to use and develop the IT they have already purchased and developed, within a rigorous framework of interoperability.
- Encourage the use of open source across the public sector. As healthcare IT is freed from the constraints of Labour’s central programme, both private sector and open source software will develop.
The Tories released two reports which spell out the strategy in more detail. The first report consisted of an “independent” analysis of the state of NHS IT, commissioned by Shadow Health Minister Stephen O’Brien. “This report, although commissioned by the Conservative Party, is independent from it: the Review Group have reached their own, evidence-based, conclusions which neither the Conservative Party nor the Government are bound to accept,” the report states.
The report, Independent Review of NHS and Social Care IT, stated that the ongoing project to modernise NHS IT, The National Programme for IT. needs urgent attention if it is to deliver the services that patients really need and avoid rising costs which now total around £12bn.
“The National Programme for IT should not, therefore, be abandoned, as some are suggesting it should be. Rather, it must be adapted and recast to better meet the needs of patients,” the report stated.
The Tories also released a specific comment on their own about plans for NHS IT which they set out in report, Conservative Party Response to Review of NHS IT.
“We welcome these conclusions. They are consistent with our plans to free the NHS from Labour’s central control and interference so that it is locally accountable to patients and can focus on improving the results of their treatment,” the report stated.
The reply also makes specific reference to Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault but appears to give more information on the Google service. The Conservatives have been criticised by some commentators for backing the search giant due to the fact that Tory advisor Steve Hilton is married to Rachel Whetstone, Google’s vice president of global communications and public affairs.
However while the Conservative’s plan has elicited a predictable response from the government, it has also raised concerns form within the Tory party itself.
Plans to put NHS data on Google were deccribed as “mad” by David Davis, a leading Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary, who resigned and was re-elected last year over civil liberties issues.
“Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me,” said Davis in The Times. The company is “hostile to privacy,” he said quoting watchdog Privacy International which said Google was leading a “race to the bottom” in protection for users among Internet firms.
However Google later hit back at Davis’ claims claiming they were innacurate. “David Davis’ column in the Times was riddled with inaccuracies,” responded a Google spokesperson. “Privacy is core to the way Google operates,” Google was the first company in the IT industry to anonymise personal information when people conduct searches, the disappointingly-anonymous Google person continued.