Will Brexit Enable the NHS to Go Paperless?

Paperless NHS
Author: Richard Shaw
Posted: July 26, 2016

The recent decision by the people of the UK to leave the European Union appears to have taken many (on both sides of the debate) by surprise – and the result has also had some unexpected consequences. With David Cameron’s resignation, a new Prime Minister and an almost entirely reshuffled cabinet, early indications are that the government may be seeking to ease back on austerity-based public spending restrictions in favour of infrastructure investment in a bid to maintain stability as the country moves towards Brexit.

With new PM Theresa May stating that the government “should no longer seek to reach a budget surplus by the end of the parliament”, it seems inevitable that this will have a bearing on NHS budgets in the years to come. Significantly, this could pave the way to increased investment in the NHS’s technology infrastructure, including a shift towards digitisation and the delivery of the long-promised reality of a “paperless NHS”.

Various plans have been outlined to upgrade record-keeping and communication in the NHS over the years, including a 2002 initiative by the Labour government of the time, which aimed to launch digital medical records, but was eventually scrapped after around £10 billion was spent on the project.

More recently, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt outlined £4.2 billion in NHS funding in a bid to bring the NHS’s technological infrastructure into the 21st century. Hunt’s announcement, in February this year, included provision for £1.8 billion in funding to create a paper-free NHS, and £1 billion to be spent on cyber security and data consent. The government plans for the NHS to be paperless at the point of care by 2018 and to have fully adopted digital and interoperable health and social care records by 2020.

The challenges of delivering such an overhaul within the NHS are significant, but so are the potential benefits. The advantages and process efficiencies that can be leveraged by corporate businesses adopting digital document and data management technologies are already well documented, and the sheer size of the NHS – which employs around 1.6 million people nationwide – would seem to offer tremendous opportunities to exploit the benefits of a digital working environment.

Paperless patient records and a robust, centralised document management system could prove to be particularly effective as patients are referred between GP surgeries, clinics and hospitals, which today largely still rely on paper records and communication by letter and fax.

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