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Tuesday 27 September 2016
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EXCLUSIVE: ‘No chance’ NHS will be paperless by 2018

EXCLUSIVE: ‘No chance’ NHS will be paperless by 2018

There is “no chance” the NHS will be paperless by 2018 despite government assurances, Management in Practice has been told. 

Speaking exclusively, Neil Darvill, director of informatics at St Helens and Knowsley Health Informatics Service said he hopes there will be more guidance to creating an online record system because otherwise there is “no chance” the plan will come to fruition. 

Earlier this year Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said patients should have digital records so that information can follow them around the healthcare system. 

By 2015 Hunt wants patients to be able to access the health records held by their GP online. 

In an interview with Management in Practice earlier this month, Jeremy Hunt said his dream of a paperless NHS needs to be created “from a bottom-up level.” 

He said: “There has been no controlling brain in Whitehall that has said, ‘Your iPhone must be able to talk to my BlackBerry and this is how it is going to happen.’ 

“If they tried to do that, probably we would find that your iPhone did not talk to my BlackBerry, but actually they do talk to each other because people have just worked out common protocols and it happens. That is what we need to do with digital patient records.”

Darvill said that the technology is available to merely scan records and put them online, but he added: “Most organisations in the NHS still use paper currently to capture information. 

“Just digitising that information and making it available online is not the solution… creating a full electronic record across the NHS is a few years away from that target [of 2018].”

Darvill, who recently launched a service to archive and host Lloyd George patient records for NHS general practitioners, said he believes that creating fully digital electronic records is “absolutely the right thing to do.” 

A Department of Health (DH) spokesperson said: "There is no one size fits all way for the NHS to go paperless, but more and more are already putting systems in place and seeing the benefits for patients and staff.” 

Giving the examples of hospitals like Kings College, University Hospitals Birmingham outpatients department and Barts’ Blood Unit, the DH spokesperson said: “We firmly believe that a paperless NHS can be achieved, [these hospitals] and many others are already making great strides through the enthusiasm and commitment of staff.” 

‘Ambitious challenge’

Professor Iain Carpenter, Associate Director of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) Informatics Unit agrees with Darvill that the target is “a challenge”. 

But he said: “There are definitely achievable steps towards this goal however, with the aim of paperless between primary and secondary care by 2015.  

“The RCP has led the development of evidence and consensus based national standards for structure and content of electronic records which will go a long way towards making the goals possible.”

Isabel Chevis. chief executive of the Institute of Health Records and Information Management (IHRIM), described the goal of being paperless by 2018 as “ambitious” but “more realistic than when the goal was 2015”. 

However, Chevis’ main point of concern is that hospital Trusts do not seem to be aware that they will still need recordkeeping staff. 

She said: “The rules that govern record keeping, legislation, confidentiality, etc. remain the same and having a qualified Health Records Manager at the helm would not only safeguard these organisations from potential litigation but would ensure they met the requirements of the Information Governance Tool Kit.

A spokesman for NHS England (formerly the NHS Commissioning Board) said the body is “doing all it can” to help NHS organisations meet the challenge. 

The spokesperson said: “We aim for the NHS to achieve this through the local development of interoperable systems, and there are already great examples of NHS organisations developing excellent systems for the management of healthcare at the level of populations and individual patients.”