Hancock’s move good for digital health

Doctors and nurses gather in a meeting about digital health

Written by Julian Blake, Director of Digital Agenda

Matt Hancock’s shuffle out of digital into health caused disappointment in some quarters as another minister getting to grips with his brief moves on. But with the man charged with running the NHS a tech evangelist, could we now witness digital delivering real impact at scale?

A new £487m fund to help the NHS transform through technology was the standout news from the first speech as health secretary by former digital secretary Matt Hancock last week – alongside strong backing for GP smartphone consultations and patient barcode tracking.

“Let this be clear: tech transformation is coming,” he said.

Hancock, reshuffled into health and social care after Boris Johnson and David Davis quit the government, unveiled the new fund during a visit to West Suffolk hospital in his own constituency.

He identified technology as one of his three early priorities, alongside workforce and prevention, as he moved to succeed Jeremy Hunt in post.

Some £412m would fund technology in hospitals to make patients safer and help more access health services at home. That, he said, “will be another major step along the road to full provider digitisation”.

A further £75m would help trusts put in place electronic systems to save money, give clinicians more time to spend on patients and reduce potentially deadly medication errors by up to 50% compared to the old paper systems.

Hancock repeated his support for Babylon’s GP at Hand app (below). “I want to see more technology like this available to all, not just a select few in a few areas of the country,” he said. He confirmed that an independent evaluation of the scheme would report in October on the effects of GP at Hand on the wider health service.

He identified other examples of tech intervention that have helped health and social care:

  • Electronic care planning using voice recognition, saving nurses an hour per shift
  • Blood coagulation measured at home then emailed to hospital, saving time and trouble of visits
  • Scan4Safety barcodes enable staff to track all patients and their treatments, saving £8.7m in six pilots
  • UCLH/Alan Turing Institute Ai/data science partnership to support clinicians and make treatment more efficient
  • ePrescribing in Cambridge, halving medication preparation time when patients are discharged.

Hancock said the government was working with Amazon so that NHS Choices health information could be tailored for voice-activated devices – ensuring that Alexa gave expert information sourced by the NHS.

Reaction to Hancock’s speech from the tech community was positive. “So psyched that Tech is an early priority for health secretary, tweeted investor Sherry Coutu.

“Great speech by ‪@MattHancock,” tweeted PUBLIC founder Daniel Korski. “We are very excited about the clear support to roll out the best that technology has to offer to support patients, clinicians but also administrators”

“Delighted to see no2. Technology – fits completely with major advances we’re making through ‪#AI and ‪#wearables for Parkinson’s,” tweeted Parkinson’s UK digital transformation director Julie Dodd.

Hancock – digital secretary for barely six months but digital minister for 18 months before that – is replaced as secretary of state at DCMS by Jeremy Wright. Wright is a lawyer and former attorney general. Margot James remains digital minister at DCMS, reporting to Wright.

This article was originally published on Digital Agenda.


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