Technology is Key to NHS Future, Says New Health Secretary

Peter Russell

July 20, 2018

The new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for England said he was determined to harness new technology to improve the NHS.

Matt Hancock, the former digital and culture secretary, said a technological future was a "catalyst for greater connectivity and empowerment" for patients and practitioners.

GPs responded by saying that technology had an important part to play in health service provision but that it was no substitute for an adequate number of doctors. 

Half a Billion Pound Tech Boost

In his first speech in the job, Mr Hancock told staff at the West Suffolk hospital in his constituency that the proper use of technology could save time, money and improve patient safety.

In a wide-ranging speech, Matt Hancock, who replaced his long-serving predecessor Jeremy Hunt, announced "a half a billion-pound package to help jump start the rollout of innovative technology aimed at improving care for patients and supporting staff to embrace technology-driven health and care".

He said that more than £400 million would be earmarked for new technology in hospitals.

In addition, £75 million would be available to NHS trusts to move from paper-based to electronic health records, he said.

Mr Hancock, a former economist, said the money was "just the start" of a digital transformation that was part of the £20.6 billion announced by the Government as a spending boost for the NHS.

He said he was committed to the successful launch of an NHS app later this year which was intended to allow patients to seek medical advice, check their medical records, book appointments, and order prescriptions. "Currently, if you ask Alexa what to do about your back pain – you don’t know where the answer will be sourced from," he said. "We will change this so questions of this sort will mean you receive the expert information prepared by the NHS," he said.

Mr Hancock acknowledged that other online information portals would be available for the service.

Workforce and Prevention

As well as technology, Matt Hancock listed the NHS workforce and prevention in his priorities.

He said it was "heart-breaking" to see how undervalued staff often feel. "The sense of duty and public service that motivates you to go into health and care is one of the things that make the NHS the institution it is.

"I am determined that the commitment you show to your patients is matched by the commitment we show to you."

When it comes to prevention, Mr Hancock said keeping people out of hospital was a goal. "With an ageing society and 10 million more people projected to be living with a long-term condition by 2030, it is more imperative than ever that we look to make a radical shift in our approach – focusing on preventative, joined-up care that’s centred around individuals."

He defined prevention as:

  • "Keeping people healthy and treating their problems quickly."

  • "Empowering people by giving them the tools they need to manage their own physical and mental health needs closer to home."

  • "Delivering care in the right place in settings that suit them and their needs."

He said integrating NHS and social care with local government services was "vital to getting this right".

Shortage of Doctors

Responding to today’s speech, the BMA's spokesperson, Dr Anthea Mowat, said that technological innovation was "by no means a replacement for face-to-face care from trained and dedicated staff and the Government must prioritise addressing the workforce crisis by providing adequate resources to fill the widespread staff shortages. We also have a shortage of beds and so basic needs like staffing and bed numbers must come before technology."

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said technology could not be a substitute for one-on-one professional advice. She said that "we are disappointed not to see more emphasis on Mr Hancock's plans for increasing the number of 'real' GPs providing frontline care to patients. We are currently at least 6000 GPs short – almost one per practice in England – yet today alone over 1 million patients will visit their GP surgeries.

"GP workload has increased by 16% over the last 7 years but our share of the NHS budget has not kept pace."

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said the new appointee had an opportunity to step up to his challenge and ensure his "words are met with action".


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