Magazine article Public Finance

IT in the ER

Magazine article Public Finance

IT in the ER

Article excerpt

I WAS IN hospital recently, nervously waiting to be taken to the operating theatre. The nurse and porters arrived and began feverishly searching for paperwork. A vital piece of paper was missing and without it the operating team would shout at them. My concerns multiplied and I couldn't help thinking that this might lead to the wrong operation or the removal of body parts that I would prefer to keep.

This exemplified my experiences with the NHS: the people are generally incredibly good but the processes and information systems are patchy, unreliable and usually paper-based.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Over the past ten years I have attended countless presentations on the £11.4bn NHS National Programme for IT. This was launched in 2002 to revolutionise the way that the NHS in England uses information to provide services and improve patient care.

In my case, one minute I was aggressively shovelling snow, an hour later I was in A&E, which led eventually to admission and the operating theatre. Throughout the process I was much better treated and cared for than I had been led to expect, but at each crucial stage they couldn't find records of previous treatments and tests, or there was only partial information.

Central to the IT programme was the creation of a fully integrated electronic care records system, designed to share and collate patient information. This should have quickly and accurately brought together my medical history from the various sources.

But a National Audit Office review has found that the £2.7bn spent so far on the care records system is not value for money - and the auditors are not confident that the remaining £4.3bn will be any different.

This represents a massive missed opportunity. The health care, technology and pharmaceutical sectors globally are among the most innovative and progressive industries. Over the past ten years there have been huge advances in these sectors. …

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