Can The NHS Go Paperless By 2018?

Independent providers are preparing to meet the challenge of a paperless NHS. Sally Taber reports from an article published in Independant Practitioner Today – September 2014 Edition:

Private Hospitals are being proactive in preparing for a healthcare system where digital technology will underpin the patient pathway across the two sectors.

A survey by the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services’ IT Council, a division of the Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations (AIHO), recently shows some encouraging progress in small and large hospital groups.

In January this year, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for the NHS to go paperless by 2018 and thereby realise savings of billions of pounds, improve services and meet the challenges of an ageing population.

Jeremy Hunt

Subsequent announcements have focused on being more inclusive and engaging with a wider stakeholder group.

Dame Fiona Caldicott, the chairwoman of the now closed National Information Governance Board, had previously expressed her concerns about information governance in a paperless system

But however long the process takes to reach fruition, it is clear that the independent sector must prepare itself to interact with an increasingly paperless NHS.

The IT Council, under the chairmanship of Spire Healthcare’s Martin Rennison, recently conducted a ‘state of readiness’ survey of its members in England.

It was pleased to note that the vast majority of AIHO members already have;

A fully thought-through plan for improving clinical record keeping and patient communication, or;

Are investigating changes as part of a wider improvement plan.

Given the mantra of ‘the patient at the centre’, ensuring a smooth digital transition from the NHS to the independent sector and back again is critical.

Eighty per cent of AIHO members have reported that they already ‘mostly’ received patient referrals from clinicians in a digital form.

The three specific digital challenges for independent providers treating NHS patients are;

1. Digitally assimilating NHS referrals into their own records;

2. Maintaining records of an episode that conforms to NHS standards and can be accepted into NHS individual patient records;

3. Being digitally aware of the patient’s complete treatment pathway and having the treatment provided by the independent provider identifiable.


Looking towards interacting with an entirely paperless NHS, 88% of AIHO members responded either that they already do so with most NHS commissioners or that could adapt their IT systems fairly readily.

However, respondents highlighted the financial investment required to adapt their IT systems.

In terms of relationships between the independent sector and NHS commissioners, it was disappointing to note that only 33% of AIHO members would recommend their communication model with NHS commissioners as a model to follow.

This is obviously an area that requires both sectors to work together for the good of patients.

Overall, the survey was a useful exercise to check progress along the path of moving towards a paperless healthcare system.

The outlook is overwhelmingly positive although there are challenges to overcome in the next few years, which the IHAS IT Council will regularly monitor.

Sally Taber is director of Independent Healthcare Advisory Services

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