UK government unveils £2B digital health strategy

Health secretary Sajid Javid has promised that by March 2023, patients will be able to check their health records, contact their GP, and attend virtual appointments all via the NHS app.

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The UK health secretary Sajid Javid has set out plans and £2 billion in investment to allow National Health Service (NHS) patients to access their NHS health records, receive messages from their GP, and attend “virtual wards” via the NHS app by March 2023.

These pledges make up the UK government’s new health and social care digital strategy, which aims to use technology to help reduce the backlog in the UK’s healthcare system. As of April 2022, the British Medical Association reported that the NHS waiting list was at a record high of 6.5 million patients — and still growing.

The strategy also sets out new ways for patients to manage hospital appointments, book COVID vaccines, and have virtual consultations through the NHS app.

By expanding the use of digital technologies throughout the NHS and increasing the availability of remote monitoring, the strategy hopes to enable doctors and nurses to monitor about 500,000 patients remotely.

The government's stated ambition is for at least 75% of adults to be using the NHS app by March 2024. However, the government reported that currently only 28 million people have the app downloaded on their phone or tablet, a figure which represents around half of the adult population in England.

In comments published alongside the strategy, Javid said this new plan allows patients to take more control of their own care at home, picking up problems sooner, and seeking help earlier.

“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,” he said.

The NHS is currently the second largest single-payer healthcare system in the world, with planned spending for the Department of Health and Social Care in England totalling £212 billion in 2020-21, up from £150 billion in 2019-20. A further £2 billion has been earmarked from the spending review to help fund the new NHS and social care digital strategy.

In December 2021, Silvia Piai, Research Director for IDC Health Insights in Europe said that since the COVID-19 outbreak, there’s been a new generation of patients that are much more involved and attentive when it comes to their health. However, she noted that when it comes to digitising the health care sector, there needs to be balance.

“Virtual care can work for certain segments, but for others [it] can be a matter of exclusion because they are not very digitally skilled, or they don’t have access to the necessary technology,” Piai said.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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