HealthcareComment in Response to Matt Hancock’s Speech

John McCann, Senior Director of Marketing, BridgeHead Software

I am encouraged by Matt Hancock’s first speech as secretary of state for health. We all had high hopes that as a former secretary of state for digital, Mr Hancock would truly get behind the brilliant digital and transformation projects the NHS is already undertaking, and continue to drive that forward.

His first speech has indicated that a further £75 million will be available for Trusts, in order to help them put in place state-of-the-art electronic systems that will allow them to save money, crucially give clinicians more time to spend with patients, and reduce medication errors from old paper systems. Encouragingly he has also stated that he will put in place data standards and support to help the NHS achieve that.

In order to facilitate a truly digital NHS, without paper, Trusts need to consider how they will consolidate data so it can be made available to those that need it, when they need it, at the point of care. Patient information needs to ‘travel’ with the patient and not be stuck in data silos throughout the hospital if we are to realise the benefits Mr Hancock speaks of. Only with a central, independent and standards-based repository for all information pertaining to a patient can this be achieved.

Interoperability is also critical here as Mr Hancock highlighted in his speech, “Interoperable data standards over clinical and operational tools and the world class and secure use of data are the basis upon which modern technology and modern research must rest.” We wholeheartedly support Mr Hancock’s aspirations.

Interoperability is still a key issue in the NHS. The reality is that many hospitals are still running multiple applications supplied by different vendors across various departments, often with little or no integration. I strongly believe the focus of interoperability should not be on ‘system interoperability’, but ‘data interoperability’.

Unfortunately, many vendors simply do not want to embrace open standards. On the one hand, it might be costly for them to change their systems and, on the other, it’s likely that they fear losing the control or ‘lock-in’ they have with customers.

As Mr Hancock states, he is taking a hard stance on any supplier who is not willing to embrace the change, and I applaud this. Only when everyone is working towards the nirvana of a truly integrated and standards-based NHS can we create the efficiencies needed to provide patients with the sustainable, high quality care they deserve.

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