2020 was the year the NHS was supposed to be paper-free. In 2013, then health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised a fully digital health service by 2018, at a cost of £1.8 billion for the shift away from paper. However, in October 2018, 94% of NHS Trusts were still using handwritten notes for paper records and then in January 2019, the paperless NHS was pushed back to the end of the next decade.
A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report made reference to ‘a paperless society’ and digital transformation in the NHS stating that “they were far from convinced that the department and NHS bodies have learned the lessons from previous IT programmes and would risk repeating the mistakes that led to those programmes failing to deliver and taxpayers’ money being wasted,”
The NHS has a chequered track record of IT transformation programmes, and notably missing its main target for a ‘paperless’ NHS by 2018, for which has now been watered down into a new target to reach a ’core level’ of digitisation by 2024.
So what now?
Prior to the pandemic in February 2020 there were already 4.43 million people on a waiting list for care. At the beginning of the pandemic, the number of people joining the waiting list initially dropped, but this has since been rising. The latest figures for November 2021 show a record of almost 6 million people waiting for treatment.
With the current strain on the NHS, working smarter and more efficiently has never been so important, making better use of the latest digital technology can only help improve quality, efficiency, and patient experience. Used well, new technologies can also help to bring about better integration of care, and improve the health of the wider population.
At Eleanor we continue to promote hospitals and clinical teams to embrace digital innovation, knowing that new systems and services will remove manual interventions, the use of paper, streamline operating processes and through good data, help trust teams to make the best decisions for their clinical staff and patients.