Health secretary to unveil NHS digital plans

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NHS patients are to get better access to healthcare via new digital technology, the health secretary will announce today.

Speaking at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester, Jeremy Hunt is expected to unveil plans to roll out an app by the end of 2018 that will allow patients to access their medical records and book GP appointments.

Patients will also be able to use the app to order repeat prescriptions and to access the non-emergency NHS 111 medical helpline. The app will mirror the comprehensive range of online patient services provided by the new NHS.uk website.

Mr Hunt will also outline plans to offer a library of additional NHS-approved health apps to help patients select reputable and effective products for health monitoring and improvement.

He is expected to tell the conference: ‘I do not underestimate the challenge of getting there – but if we do it will be the best possible 70th birthday present from the NHS to its patients.’

Imelda Redmond, National Director of Healthwatch England, called the plans ‘a huge step forward’ in providing the level of service expected from a modern health system. 

But leading doctors, while welcoming the technology, said it will not help to address the shortage of GPs and nurses in the NHS.

Chair of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, commented: ‘GPs have been the leaders in developing and using electronic records and innovative digital technologies and are always looking for new ways to enhance and support patient care.

‘However, new technologies that are created with the intention of improving access won't solve the fundamental problem that there are simply not enough GP and nurse appointments available for patients, as there are not enough GPs and nurses available to offer them or meet the growing needs of our patients.’

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the effective use of technology ‘can be hugely beneficial’ for both patients and healthcare professionals, but warned of alienating more vulnerable patients who either do not have access to, or do not know how to use, such technology.

‘Technology can be wonderful, but it is essential that any new innovation or scheme is piloted and rigorously evaluated in terms of its benefit to patient care and the wider NHS, before it is rolled out widely,’ she said.