Long-awaited NHS Information Strategy a damp squib?

4-May-2012

Document will not demand action, only encourage NHS managers to be \'shock troops\' for change

IT professionals were this week urged to become the ‘shock troops for change’ and put themselves at the forefront of the drive to save more than £20billion by 2015.

The Government will publish its long-awaited Information Strategy at the end of this month, but ministers have admitted the document will not mandate the way forward, merely provide support as individual trusts are encouraged to make their own decisions on future technology investment.

Following the axing of the NHS National Programme for IT, it was expected the strategy would lay out how the health service will move forward in its procurement of solutions and systems to drive up patient care and improve efficiency. Many believed it would include incentives and introduce possible penalties to ensure improvements in the adoption of technology.

But, speaking at the Health Informatics Congress in London this week, ministers appeared to suggest the strategy will contain no major directives, instead putting local health economies firmly in the driving seat.

The Information Strategy will be a very important direction, but anyone who is waiting for it and setting their sights on it is missing the point

Refusing to comment on the exact content of the publication, Jim Easton, the NHS national director for improvement and efficiency, said in his keynote speech: “The Information Strategy will be a very important direction, but anyone who is waiting for it and setting their sights on it is missing the point. Let’s get it out there as it is important, but do not wait for it. Reposition yourselves as the solution to the key problems of the NHS and make yourselves the shock troops for this change now.

“The aim of the strategy is to reflect the direction of travel and recognise that this is a process and that things will change all the time. We have got to strike a balance between safety and security and the need for innovation. The role of the strategy is to put targets and structures in place that allow people to be innovative. That’s the right direction of travel.

“This is not about top down or bottom up, but a mature relationship where we do the right things, at the right time, at the right level.”

Earl Howe, the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Quality, did reveal that the strategy will include a commitment that all NHS patients will have secure open access to their GP records by 2015, but detailed information on how this will be delivered is not thought to be included in the document.

He said: “It is important we get this right. Introducing change is crucial and fundamental to the future of the NHS, but it is far from easy.

“The Information Strategy will create the framework to transform the way information is collected and used. It will lay the groundwork for the crucial shift in culture that’s needed to make the information revolution happen. But political pressure alone, however well meaning, cannot make this happen. The role of government should be to support clinicians and to empower, not to tell them what to do.”

Reposition yourselves as the solution to the key problems of the NHS and make yourselves the shock troops for this change now

He also provided some insight into how the adoption and deployment of technology will be monitored in the future, telling delegates: “The NHS National Commissioning Board will be working with the Department of Health and Public Health England to make sure the needs of patients and professionals drive future strategy. They will be overseeing information, standards and governance, supported by a leaner delivery organisation that will replace Connecting for Health and will approve and accredit national and local systems against standards so that the systems talk to each other.

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“We are clear there is a role centrally in supporting the NHS locally, so we are not saying ‘just get on with it’. We are there to work together, but we need to encourage innovators to come up with good ideas.”

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