Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned that lack of electronic patient records in the NHS is such a problem it is leading directly to patient deaths, according to the British Journal of Healthcare Computing.
So bad is the current situation, he claimed, that some records take up to six months to switch between one GP practice to another when a patient moves house. But such inefficiency is only part of the issue, he said: "People are actually dying because we haven't gone electronic,” Hunt told The Sunday Times in an in-depth interview at the weekend.
Repeating his call for a move to a ‘paperless' NHS by 2018 – seen by Hunt and his team as critical to improving patient safety in the light of scandals like Mid-Staffs – the Health Secretary also seems to have an explanation as to why the country has not yet managed to deploy such systems: contract gaps with the multi-billion pound National Programme for IT, which signally failed to deliver such records on a national scale.
"The last government completely messed up the IT contracts,” he told journalists at the paper. “We're starting again. This is too important to put our heads in the sand over. It's an absolute fundamental [of quality healthcare]. I want the NHS to go paperless by 2018, with electronic records that can navigate anywhere.” This move, he suggested, is the only way to improve safety plus deal with such "scandalous" waste.
But going back to the drawing board on IT procurement is only part of the Secretary's plan to get the NHS back on track. Just as important seems to be willingness on the part of the institution to get on board with the government's recent re-organisation, he claimed. But such reforms may not be over yet, he suggested. Specifically, the Minister thinks the NHS is “sustainable” in the medium term – but only if “we are prepared to take some difficult decisions about how we deliver healthcare.”
Such plans may centre on a return to the “traditional” role of the family doctor, featuring more out-of-hours care and a 7-day a week form of delivery so that patients can expect the same care at the weekend as they do during the week.
“It may not be the GP personally doing every single home visit,, said Hunt. “But I think we need to rediscover and strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and that sense of accountability and responsibility for the most vulnerable people on GPs' lists.”
Hunt also seems to be toying with the idea of bringing together a team of top doctors, similar to “superheads” in the education sector, empowered to parachute in to help lead turn-arounds in the poorest-performing Trusts.