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UK plans ‘digital revolution’ in health and social care

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The UK government has published a new plan to digitalise health and social care services that will see the widespread adoption of digital health records and help patients contact GPs via the NHS app.

The UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has published its data strategy to modernise its systems and improve access to healthcare all across the country.

The plan rests on the government's desire to digitalise healthcare and aims to ensure that UK residents can easily access their NHS records and use their phones to manage appointments, book vaccinations and have virtual consultations by March 2023. The following year, patients are expected to be able to complete hospital pre-assessment checks from home.

Moreover, a further 500,000 people will be able to access remote monitoring, allowing their doctors to monitor their conditions while they stay at home, while also freeing up hospital beds and frontline workers’ time, according to the DHSC.  

“We are embarking on a radical programme of modernisation that will make sure the NHS is set up to meet the challenges of 2048, not 1948, when it was first established," said DHSC Secretary Sajid Javid. 

“This plan builds on our data strategy to revolutionise digital health and care, which will enable patients to manage hospital appointments from the NHS app and take more control of their own care at home, picking up problems sooner and seeking help earlier."

The new data strategy was first announced earlier this month, aiming to have three-quarters of the adult population in England registered with the NHS app within the next two years and allowing care teams to improve information-sharing through the adoption of digital health and social care records.

Currently, only 45 per cent of social care providers use a digital social care record and 23 per cent of care home staff cannot access the internet consistently at work, according to the DHSC.

“Ensuring more personalisation and better join up of the system will benefit patients, free up clinician time and help us to bust the Covid backlogs," Javid said. 

As part of the data strategy, DHSC is also looking to develop a national digital workforce strategy. Moreover, 10,500 new positions are expected to be created in the data and tech workforce as part of this commitment to digitalise the UK's healthcare sector. 

Nonetheless, the plan is likely to face opposition, as digital healthcare professionals have warned that it would only increase the pressure NHS and social care staff are already under, without any measures in place to reduce their workloads in order to allow them to have the necessary time to develop the new digital skills required for the transition. 

Dr Pritesh Mistry, digital fellow at the King’s Fund, warned that the biggest risk to the Government’s vision is the “lack of capacity among the health and care workforce”.

He said: “NHS and social care staff are already under intense pressure and many will wonder where they will find the time needed to learn the new skills to use technologies, change organisational culture to work better with tech innovators, and avoid the pitfall of implementing new tech without adequately consulting the staff and patients who will use it”.

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