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Matt Hancock’s IT revolution falls flat

Today the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced of intention to bring the NHS’ IT system "into the 21st Century". Writing in the Telegraph (paywall), and speaking on BBC Radio 4, the Minister claimed the government would be aiming for the NHS’ IT system to become capable of total interoperability in the future.

According to the Minister, a total system of interoperability – which is defined as the ability for different networks within the NHS to communicate and share data with one another – would eliminate the use of outdated technology such as fax machines. The Minister also claimed it would eradicate the sharing of patient data through pen and paper.

In setting out how the government was to achieve its new target, the Minister claimed it would not be requiring the NHS to purchase an entirely new IT system. But, rather, that it would be requiring all future IT systems purchased to be capable of interoperability.

Unfortunately, the announcement was swiftly undermined by the fact that the funding was in fact coming from an existing budget. The government has previously announced the NHS will receive a £20bn, year-on-year real term increase in funding up to 2023/24 - amounting to a 3.4% increase per year.

However, this announcement was widely criticised by numerous independent and respected bodies such as the Kings Fund, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Nuffield Trust. Those organisations cited the fact that the NHS actually requires a real term increase of 4% per year to maintain its current level of capacity and manage future demand. The government was also criticised for misrepresenting the funding. The new funds will not be going to public health programs, social care, NHS buildings or staff training.

The Health Secretary also claimed the government would be making £200m available to NHS Trusts to bid for funds. Reacting to the news Dr Alex Ashman, co-leader of the National Health Action Party said:

“We’ve seen this a hundred times before. This government announces 'new' funding and it quickly transpires that they’re borrowing from existing budgets. If the government was serious about ensuring the NHS had an IT system fit for the future, it wouldn’t make NHS Trusts bid against one another for what it concedes are invaluable technologies.

Mr Hancock needs to drop the spin and lobby for novel funding for NHS IT infrastructure. There was no new money for IT in the last announcement, so we must assume the government are happy to redirect front-line budgets whilst 4.3 million patients are on languishing on waiting lists.”

Ends

The National Health Action (NHA) Party was founded in 2012 to oppose the growing marketisation of the NHS.

The NHA Party stood against Jeremy Hunt in his SW Surrey constituency in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, taking 12,093 votes in the latter: a 7.8% swing to NHA.

Dr Phil Hammond is the NHA’s latest prospective parliamentary candidate and will be standing against Jacob Rees-Mogg at the next general election.

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