NHS organisations have stretched IT “as thin as it can go” and the system “cannot maintain existing processes”, delegates at the HIMSS UK e-Health Week conference heard this week.

Dr Simon Eccles, the new national Chief Clinical Information Officer for Health and Care in England, said the NHS would need to “start taking advantage of the digital revolution” to support the efficiency gains and benefits needed for a sustainable future.

Empowering patients to take control of their health, supporting clinicians to provide better care, integrating services, and creating a research and development platform would help move the NHS towards the space that it would need to be in, Eccles said.

Delegates heard the Local Health and Care Record Exemplar program, expected to be launched shortly, the 43 NHS trusts on track to become Global Digital Exemplars and fast followers, and the new Genomic Medicine Service would underpin system-wide transformation.

But organisation boards would need to understand that digital was a core part of the business, and keeping data secure and allowing it to flow across different systems was critical, Eccles said, pointing out that many organisations were “a very long way from that”.

“As an A&E consultant, I watched discharge summaries being done in a phenomenal hurry at 2, 3 o’clock in the morning, without necessarily the due regard to the quality of the coded data that I would like if they had all the time in the world to undertake that.

“And I think we have a collective responsibility to try and get that right and to help them, as a workforce, understand the importance of it,” Eccles added.

The next big challenge to the clinical community would then be breaking down organisational barriers of care, which Eccles said would be supported by the LHCRE program.

In turn, that could underpin the creation of a new ecosystem sitting on top of the existing infrastructure, based on interoperable, standardised data. The other piece would be integration.

Only then the NHS would be able to start making use of AI and machine learning, Eccles said, adding that an area where these technological advancements could have an impact was in supply chain management capabilities.

“As an industry, we’re currently spending an average of less than 2 per cent of our turnover on IT. In most industries that are as dependent on data as ours, that figure would be near of 10 per cent, and in the financial services it would be over 20 per cent.

“Five [per cent] would be a huge advance on where we are, and because we have been through a really tough period for NHS funding, and quite understandably, everybody has focused hard on efficiency, clinical safety, and frontline facing staff, which I completely get.

“I think we’ve stretched IT as thin as it can go in many organisations. We are using outdated hardware, old versions of software. WannaCry made that very, very clear … We are right at the edge of this, for some organisations, so the catch-up is significant, but so is the gain,” the CCIO concluded.

Originally published on the British Journal of Healthcare Computing, a sister publication of HITNA.

HIMSS is the parent company of HITNA




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