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Election 2015 – Who says what about IT and the NHS?

Wednesday 6 May 2015

In between the constant rhetoric and name-calling that plagues this frankly embarrassing lead up to the election there are some policies hidden in between the repetitive sound-bites. It might take a bit of digging so we’ve done it for you – specifically the different party’s perspectives about improving the NHS through the use of IT.

Are you ready for a surprise? Here we go…

After a bit of research it becomes apparent that despite it being 2015, the world of computers, the healthcare analytics revolution, and the prime time in which trusts are expanding and increasing their IT efficiency and usability, that the six major parties have little-to-nothing to say about the role of IT in the NHS!

Shocking I know, when only six months ago NHS healthcare analytics was ‘fragmented, rudimentary and not yet fit for purpose’, with the following predictions for savings made by an appointed board reviewing the entire system:

• £840 million a year due to reduction in A&E attendances
• £200 million savings through reduced complications with patients who have Diabetes
• £126 million per year through better care management for patients with COPD
• £5 billion saving of staff time through more efficient working practices
• Up to £126 million through reducing readmission rates

Lots of numbers there! And all through the procurement of improved and modern data analytics packages. Considering the idea banded around by the major parties is £8 billion in increased funding it seems a no brainer to officially support a modern approach to cost saving…
So without further ado, here are the policies that most relate to IT in the NHS lifted from the different party manifestos:

Conservatives

• pledge to fulfil 2010’s promise of “electronic health records”
• ensure the public “retain(s) your right to opt-out of your records being shared electronically”
• increased funding of “£8 billion” to support the “Five Year Forward View”
• “£22 billion” of efficiency savings
• promise for a “truly seven day NHS”

The Conservatives have repeated their previous promise of electronic health records and judging from our experience with health data it isn’t a surprise they haven’t managed to consolidate the system in their current incumbent period. NHS data systems continue to be different across each practice and we all know it’s harder than it looks to put the entire countries records in one online secure portal. That being said, so little progress has been made it seems foolish attempting to guarantee the same thing they have so spectacularly misjudged already.

The “£22 billion of efficiency savings” suggests the implementation of data analytics in accordance to the 2014 Healthcare Analytics Review and the savings associated with that review. This is also in the ‘Five Year Forward View’ which promises increased staffing numbers alongside decreasing number of bureaucratic processes that eat up time and money that the NHS cannot currently afford.

Labour

• a “more integrated health and care system”, but not mentioning more use of IT.
• ‘rescue’ the NHS through a ‘time to care’ fund paid for by mansion tax
• repealing part of the Health and Social Care Act 2012
• £2.5 billion for “20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs and 3000 more midwives”
• actual appointments “within 48 hours, and on the same day for those who need it”

Labour are promising the least increase to NHS funding and have not mentioned any cuts of cost savings – perhaps the complete opposite from what you’d expect from the centre-left party! The main increase from Labour’s perspective is in staffing numbers and capacity, whilst repealing the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that allows private businesses to bid for aspects of the NHS’s healthcare delivery.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 has been widely criticised and has increased the influence of the private sector on the NHS. Despite this the impact of IT is largely unaffected on the whole and it seems the entire Labour manifesto fails to acknowledge the potential of healthcare analytics and IT.

Liberal Democrats

• “ensure easier access to GPs” through phone and Skype appointments
• “will raise NHS spending by £1 billion a year above inflation until we’ve balanced the books in 2018”
• ‘£8 billion’ to support the ‘Five Year Forward View’ from a ‘transformation fund’
• “half the initial £1 billion” intended for “providing care in people’s own homes and communities”
• “set aside £250 million from the sale of redundant NHS assets” to fund a “digital revolution” in the health service

The promise of a ‘digital revolution’ is always exciting. Using Skype to contact a GP is innovative but still doesn’t point us towards using more healthcare analytics. Increased funding always gives trusts more breathing room in terms of procuring solutions and consolidating systems but with no clear goal it’s easy to see the money going on other parts of the NHS.

Scottish National Party

• use “Scotland’s Penny” to invest £690 million more in health, education and housing
• “introduce Scottish Public Service Trusts to replace the scandal of Tory and Labour privatisation of health and education”
• “committed to improving the staffing levels throughout our health service“
• introduce a “minister of Public Health” whom also oversees the “anti-poverty programme”
• “will promote the use of information technology to provide expert care to our remote communities”

IT gets a mention from the SNP but is again more attuned to the idea of Skyping your GP when you’re living out of the way from a local practice. “£690 million” appears less than the other parties but as a percentage of the population being represented actually shows a large increase on the pledges made by the other major parties. Increased budget would suggest increased investment, but again it’s more positioned at increased staff numbers rather than increasing operational efficiency.

Green Party

• “repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and introduce an NHS Reinstatement Bill” which restricts the roles of commercial companies and abolishes private sector competition in the public sector
• “promote transparency by ending commercial confidentiality”
• “immediately increase the overall NHS budget by £12 billion a year to overcome the current funding crisis, increase investment in mental health care and provide for free dentistry, chiropody and prescriptions in England.”
• “use quantitative data to better understand how the [NHS] system is working, not to set targets, and to see them as a route to continuously improving patient care, not an end in themselves”

The Green Party are the first people to use the word ‘data’! The abolition of private sector competition suggests a unified procurement process – good on paper, but with the hundreds of NHS trusts would require yet another large structural reform. Hooray, right?…

UKIP

• £3 billion a year of increased funding
• “20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs and 3000 more midwives” instead of repeating the “administering of a disastrous £12 billion NHS IT project which ultimately failed”

UKIP’s health policy is slightly lacking. The numbers seem copy and pasted from the Labour manifesto with an extra bit attacking ‘health tourism’. Once again, no mention of IT or data anywhere.

What have we learnt?

We’ve learnt that despite employing hundreds of university educated professionals each party still can’t come up with a cohesive plan to make the changes needed to the NHS. Increased GPs won’t cut it when the system itself remains rudimentary, confusing and fragmented. The Conservatives have the only policy that mentions IT and efficiency savings but with the current GP wait times, it’s still not enough to either sway voters or convince healthcare professionals.

A recent article suggested one third of GPs want to retire in the next three years. If that is the case, we aren’t going to be able to educate and employ enough people to replace the people retiring, let alone another 8,000 on top of that! There is a lot more to the reasons behind the current challenges the NHS faces than sheer staff numbers or patient records being unavailable to individuals.

Once again, a report is commissioned, suggestions made, and then entirely ignored by all major parties.

The conclusion? Eat healthy, lots of exercise, and stay away from A&E…

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