By March 2015, Mr Hunt wants online access to patient records and paperless GP referrals. He also wants plans in place to enable the linking of GP and hospital patient records by the same date, and if patients consent, to allow their records to be accessible in the social care system.
By 2018 Mr Hunt said it would become the norm for digital information about patients to be fully available across the NHS and social care unless patients choose to opt out. A DH spokeswoman said that Mr Hunt’s IT aspirations, which are for England only, were a challenge he was setting the NHS, rather than a target that will be centrally monitored.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘We have had ambitious IT projects before that have not been fully realised. The NHS is one of the most complicated systems in the world.
‘Patient safety is our paramount concern. There are a lot of consequences in having information more readily available, electronically. Patients can access their records now. We want the patient to remain confident that the information remains confidential. We don’t want the patient not to be open with their GP because they are scared that an abusive partner, employer or insurance company will see their records.
‘The principle of improved electronic communication between hospitals and GPs is welcome as long as there are sufficient safeguards in place. The reality is that there is more and more paper throughout the system than ever before. The aspiration maybe far from reality.’
Mr Hunt said: ‘The NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution.
‘It is crazy that ambulance drivers cannot access a full medical history of someone they are picking up in an emergency and that GPs and hospitals still struggle to share digital records.
‘Previous attempts to crack this became a top down project akin to building an aircraft carrier. We need to learn those lessons and in particular avoid the pitfalls of a hugely complex, centrally specified approach.
‘Only with world class information systems will the NHS deliver world class care.’