Innovation and changeDigital TransformationNHS to receive digital boost through fibre optic internet and faster approvals

NHS to receive digital boost through fibre optic internet and faster approvals

As part of the digital boost through different updates, NHS to get improved access to treatments and services and faster internet

In two separate developments, the NHS will receive a digital boost through the rollout of fibre optic internet and faster development of new technology-based services.

All NHS organisations will get the fastest broadband available, which will improve the range and quality of digital healthcare services offered to patients. Similarly, new improvements to the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) will put the most promising medicines, diagnostic tools and digital services through the clinical development and regulatory approval process faster.

The announcements regarding the digital boost through faster internet and access to pioneering treatments were made by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Health Minister Nicola Blackwood respectively.

Last week, NHS Digital announced the launch of the new NHS Identity Service that will help ambulance clinicians access patient information on the move.

Unlocking the full potential of technology

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Every day, our NHS staff do amazing work – but too often they are let down by outdated and unreliable technology. It’s simply unbelievable that a third of NHS organisations are using internet that can sometimes be little better than dial-up.

“To give people control over how they access NHS services, I want to unlock the full potential of technology  – this is the future for our 21st century healthcare system and a central part of our NHS Long Term Plan.

“Faster broadband connections can help us deliver these dramatic improvements – we need clinicians and other healthcare professionals to feel confident they can access fast, reliable broadband so they can provide patients with the best possible care.”

Almost 40% of NHS organisations are using slow and unreliable internet supplied through copper lines, which restricts the ability to offer digital services to patients.

Today’s announcement supports ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan to expand and improve online access to NHS services through the digital boost. Under the plan:

  • Every patient will get the right to choose a ‘digital first’ approach to primary healthcare, meaning that more of the 307 million patient consultations with GPs each year would in future be offered online, through video consultation, as well as face to face
  • Hospital outpatient clinics will also be redesigned with more ‘virtual clinics’ involving video consultations with consultants and nurses, supplemented by face-to-face appointments where necessary
  • Cloud-based patient records will help clinicians access crucial information, including high-resolution images, anywhere in the country, improving patient safety and speeding up appointments

Replacing outdated technology

The NHS had more than 130,000 pagers at use, the largest number in the world, and will soon decommission them by replacing them with mobile and app solutions.

The NHS has been widely criticised for its outdated IT systems, its slow progress adapting to modern technology and the lack of digital literacy amongst the NHS workforce. In July FOI requests revealed that more than 8,000 fax machines are still being used in England by the NHS.

Next in the radar for phasing out are fax machines – around 9,000 documents are sent via fax machines at NHS. “We have to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of archaic technology like pagers and fax machines”, Matt had said.

Upgrading broadband will provide the fast, more reliable connections necessary for video consultations and sharing high-definition images at speed.

Cutting-edge treatments and medical innovations

Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said: “I want the NHS to be at the forefront of cutting-edge treatments and medical innovations – but often it can take too long for products to get from the bench to the bedside. The Accelerated Access Collaborative will speed up this process so patients and the NHS can be the first in the world to benefit from the most transformative technologies and treatments as part of our Long Term Plan.”

The AAC was set up in 2018 to speed up the time it takes for patients to benefit from ground-breaking products for conditions such as cancer, dementia and diabetes.

It will now become the new umbrella organisation for UK health innovation. It will act as the ‘front door’ for innovators looking to get their products funded by the NHS and will provide support to overcome barriers that can prevent the best medical innovations from reaching patients.

For this digital boost, a new unit in NHS England and NHS Improvement will be established, led by Dr Sam Roberts as chief executive.

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