We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for initiating this debate. It is a pleasure to take part in a debate about how data will improve the health of the nation. It is not only crucial but has huge potential for the future of the NHS. I take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lord Bethell on his maiden speech and look forward to his future contributions.
I welcome the £400 million-plus investment in new technology in hospitals, making patients safer, reducing cost and, importantly, linking people to access their health services at home. I also welcome the £75 million available to trusts to help them put in place state-of-the-art electronic systems. Those again save money but, crucially, have the potential to reduce medication errors by up to 50% compared to the previous paper systems, and to cut bureaucracy, making life better for staff, showing how electronic health records and other smart tools can support nurses both in and out of hospitals, benefiting patients who may have many health problems while ensuring that doctors are clear on their legal responsibilities.
Today, the Minister is setting out plans to make the NHS the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology by investing a further £200 million to transform a group of NHS trusts into internationally recognised centres for technological and digital innovation. As he says, we are setting a gold standard for others to follow. Is that extra money? The future is to see more technology available to all, not just a select few areas of the country and not subject to a postcode lottery, thereby avoiding variations in patient outcomes and seeing all hospitals digitised as soon as possible, with healthcare becoming more integrated. In social care, for instance, the use of data is even more essential.
In developing a culture in which innovation can be rapidly adopted and rolled out across the country, we need a clear, robust strategy to take the NHS forward and not fall behind other nations—a culture that empowers to help make that change happen. As I said earlier, the UK certainly has a real opportunity to be a global leader in health data research by capturing all this potential, including artificial intelligence, the application of genomics to medicine, and the development of a range of new diagnostic tools and therapies for conditions that will enable more healthy ageing.
The evidence is out there showing how we can use technology better to create more efficiencies in passing information around and, importantly, in improving quality. The public and healthcare professionals must have confidence that access to patient data is appropriately managed so they can plan services and research new treatments. It must be clear to the public that their data matter, and that the data on research on new treatments to the NHS are stored safely. We need to bring together patients’ trust in the data in making informed choices from among other healthcare options.
Every time we go to a doctor we receive a diagnosis and, when we start a new treatment, the information goes into a database. The introduction of electronic patient records means that a patient’s journey in the health system is more accurately recorded and easily accessed, with patients receiving more effective care by having a digitised record. When we put all that together, it is a database combining millions of data points which then can be used for research purposes. Researchers are now harnessing vast amounts of information to assess what works in medicine.
There must be adherence to very strict protocols to prevent any leaks of personal information, and provision for the public to opt out, if requested. It is regrettable that some areas of the NHS have been slow to adopt information technology but we know that new technologies are changing what type of care can be provided and how it is delivered. We must support those trusts, while challenging others which are slow to engage, and help them to remove barriers. It is vital to support organisations which want to make changes in driving up productivity, bring on board new innovations, use data and welcome new technologies.
Medicine and public health are constantly evolving as new research and technology opens the doors to new ways to treat or prevent diseases, so we are able to live longer—and, importantly, live well longer.