Government ‘fails to deliver IT-led innovation’ in the NHS

The Boardroom

by Duncan MacRae| 11 February 2014

Failures have led to a lack of confidence in IT projects.

There is an overwhelming lack of CIO confidence in government ability to deliver IT-led innovation in the NHS, a study released today by wireless networks specialist Xirrus has revealed.

The Xirrus New Technologies in the NHS Report reveals that 74% of respondents are either 'not very confident' or 'not confident at all' in the government's ability to drive IT-led healthcare innovation.

Sean Larner, International VP, Xirrus, said: "This finding is likely a response to failed government IT projects which have previously hampered the NHS.

"These include the 2002 attempt to upgrade NHS computer systems which failed at a reported cost of £ 9.8bn. Additionally, a lack of clarity and consistency in government policy can impact confidence scores."

The research also highlights challenges around inter-agency collaboration in the health service, with CIOs looking for more support from government to tackle these issues. Key concerns were identified as 'increased IT integration and information sharing across all healthcare organisations' and 'standardisation of data across the health service'.

Government investment is required to develop a joined-up approach to health and social care across multiple organisations.

On a more positive note, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's paperless policy has resonated with healthcare CIOs. The majority view this as a priority technology initiative, with 66% actively making changes to facilitate a paperless approach. The two technologies viewed as most critical to enabling a paperless NHS are e-transactions, such as e-prescriptions and e-health records and high capacity wireless networks which allow clinicians to access online records at the bedside.

The study found that the main obstacle to paperless is funding, cited by just over a quarter (26%) of respondents. Security concerns (17%), cultural resistance (17%) and a lack of enabling IT infrastructure (17%) were also identified as barriers to adoption for a paperless NHS.

Mark Austin, Assistant Director of Clinical Information and Business Intelligence, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, said: "The 2013 technology fund to help enable the paperless NHS initiative was open for a very short amount of time to request funds, so people should get planning for the imminent 2014 technology fund.

"Additionally, it is important to remember that more established consultants can struggle with records going paperless. A phased approach to the digitalisation of patient information can help to bolster support for a paperless approach. We found that e-prescribing was a comfortable first step as clinicians no longer had to spend time going back towards or the pharmacy to check their handwriting, freeing up their time and providing clear benefit."

Despite support for Hunt's paperless policy, over half of respondents (52%) do not regard it as the most important technology challenge facing the NHS. Over a fifth of healthcare CIOs stated that other ICT initiatives are taking priority over paperless including mobile technologies, wireless networks and telehealth schemes. While these projects all help to facilitate a paperless NHS, the findings suggest that healthcare organisations are looking at IT with more than paperless in mind. They are prioritising wider initiatives to streamline operations, boost productivity for clinicians and improve patient outcomes.

Sean Larner, International VP, Xirrus, said: "The investment mind set of these organisations is to be commended. The phrase 'paperless NHS' can focus attention too narrowly on outmoded images of charts and patient records, when we really need to be exploring how technology can achieve greater efficiency and better working practices. The 22% of organisations that are taking a more holistic approach have got it spot on."

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