Editorial - DH must explain how telecare saves £1.2bn

Last month, care services minister Paul Burstow said telecare and telehealth 'could save the NHS up to £1.2bn over five years'.

It would seem common sense that the ability to deploy the latest technology in the NHS would result in both the savings that the £20bn Nicholson challenge demands and the improvement in the quality of patient care that is at the heart of the coalition government's NHS ambitions.

Earlier this year, GP magazine carried a feature about success stories in south London, one of which involved how preventing 24 unnecessary hospital admissions over a year was thought to have saved £55,000 (GP, 11 January).

But, hang on, journalists and GPs thrive on evidence like that costed out for us in south London. Exactly how had the DH calculated its £1.2bn?

GP asked on our readers' behalf and submitted a Freedom of Information Act request when we were blocked. Today we reveal that the DH refused our request, saying it 'could inhibit future policy delivery'. Remember this is the same government that, at the time of writing, has refused to publish the NHS reforms risk register despite direction by an information tribunal to do so (GP, 18 April).

As GP reports this week, telehealth lecturer David Barrett believes the £1.2bn figure is 'potentially' a realistic estimate 'if - and it is a very big "if" - you deploy the right service for the right user in the right way'.

If GPs are to lead clinical commissioning groups effectively to decide how the bulk of the NHS budget is spent, they will need to have the very best evidence at their fingertips to make such decisions.

GP today calls once more on the DH to explain its £1.2bn claim so commissioners can do their job better. Or, if it doesn't feel it can share its analyses with those who have elected ministers, suggests they keep such estimates to themselves.

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