Jeremy Hunt told an RCGP fringe meeting at the Conservative party annual conference in Birmingham that better use of new technologies could help patients do more to manage their own health, and give GPs more time for complex patients.
Mr Hunt said the banking industry had used a ‘clever trick’ to get customers to do more work while improving services and cutting costs.
‘If you look at the way we bank now compared to 10 years ago - we think online banking is massively more convenient because we can move money around at midnight and we've got instant access to statements and can see what is going on,' said Mr Hunt.
Online GP access
‘But the reality is the banks make us do a lot more work than we had to do 10 years ago. Ten years ago all we had to do was take the cheque a friend gave us and take it to the bank. And then the bank did all the work. Now we have to type in the sort code and the account number and get it verified by the bank.'
Transaction costs for banks were ninety-nine times less than a decade ago, the health secretary said.
‘So there is a deal with consumers that you get a better service but we are asking more from you in return,' Mr Hunt said. ‘I think in the NHS we haven't thought about what more we can ask from our patients as we enable these new facilities to made possible.’
In September, Mr Hunt announced a new package of innovations to be introduced by September 2017 including a 111 app for managing conditions linked to medical records, and a new online verification system to make access electronic access to medical records easier.
At the Labour party conference in Liverpool last week, shadow health secretary Diane Abbott warned that public confidence in digital access to general practice could be undermined if it was seen as a way of cutting costs.
NHS reform plans
Sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) being developed by local health and care organisations were likely to rely on online access to services to reduce costs, Ms Abbott said.
Mr Hunt told his party that the transformation brought by new technology would be ‘a win for doctors and a win for patients’. The changes would make people ‘nervous’, he said, but in the long run would ‘lead to a culture change’.
‘That is a change to patients being much more in control of their own health destiny.’
‘Get this right and a lot of the more straightforward things that doctors do, patients will be able to work out for themselves’, he added. ‘But the thing we really need GPs for, because it is their core skill, which is making complex judgments about people with multiple long-term conditions ... these are not things you can sort out in a 10-minute appointment. You need much longer, and the name of the game has to be to free up GPs to use that expertise and to spend longer with the patients that they need to.’
GP and Conservative member of the House of Commons health select committee Dr James Davies MP told the same meeting that third parties such as the police, Department for Work and Pensions and insurance firms could be given access to GPs' notes with patient consent in order to reduce workload.
‘We are talking about social services, DWP forms, insurance company forms, the police and so forth,' he said. ‘And it has been suggested to me by some colleagues that we could save on some of the time in general practice which isn't strictly NHS work, of course, if some of these bodies were given direct access to notes with the appropriate patient consent.’