by Gaurav Sharma

Healthcare CIOs lack confidence in NHS IT innovation plans

Feb 17, 20143 mins
GovernmentIT Strategy

Healthcare CIOs lack confidence in the government’s ability to deliver IT innovation in the NHS, according to an industry survey.

“Technology is never the difficult thing to put in to any setting,” Mark Austin, CIO of Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, told CIO UK. “It is the management and deployment of it that presents a challenge. It is not that people within the NHS are averse to going paperless or wireless – the phased management of it all is the biggest challenge.”

Bedford NHS trust introduced Wi-Fi and tablet devices to improve patient care and processes. Austin feels it is important to remember that more established consultants can struggle with records going paperless. “So yes, part of it is the fear of the unknown, but it also has much to do with being resistive to change – that’s human nature,” he said.

Austin said that changes should be about efficiencies. “That’s the message needed to be hammered home. The migration from scribbling on pieces of paper – be they prescriptions or pathology reports – is as much about management and demand optimisation. Electronic records are also easier to maintain and traceable than pieces of paper.

“The benefits are clear. We found that e-prescribing was a comfortable first step as clinicians no longer had to spend time going back to wards or the pharmacy to check their handwriting, freeing up their time and providing clear benefit,” he added.

A poll that claims to have been responded to by 217 CIOs sponsored by wireless networks solutions provider Xirrus found that 74 per cent of respondents were either ‘not very confident’ or ‘not confident at all’ in the government’s ability to drive IT-led healthcare innovation.

Key concerns identified by CIOs included issues related to increased IT integration and information sharing across all healthcare organisations and standardisation of data across the health service.

Some 66 per cent of respondents said they were making ‘paperless a priority’, as championed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, with nearly half (48 per cent) regarding it as the biggest challenge facing the NHS.

The study found that the main obstacle to paperless is funding, cited by just over a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents. Security concerns (17 per cent), cultural resistance (17 per cent) and a lack of enabling IT infrastructure (17 per cent) were also identified as barriers to adoption for a paperless NHS.

The two technologies viewed as most critical to enabling a paperless were e-transactions, such as e-prescriptions and e-health records and high capacity wireless networks which allow clinicians to access online records at the bedside. Health secretary Hunt’s proposals could ultimately see £4.4 billion reinvested for purposes of better “usage of technology”, according to a Department of Health spokesperson.

However, Austin’s advice to fellow NHS CIOs is to get planning for the imminent 2014 technology funding round.

“The 2013 technology fund to help enable the paperless NHS initiative was open for a very short amount of time to request funds, so people should get planning for the next round. Seed funding for the work is not being handed out without a convincing business case. You to need work hard and plan well for a business case to be approved.”