RCGP calls for 'robust and joined-up' IT systems in new tech manifesto

GPs must be equipped with 'robust and joined-up' IT systems before a technological revolution can take place in primary care, the RCGP has warned.

Professor Helen-Stokes Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)
Professor Helen-Stokes Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)

In a 'tech manifesto' published today, the college called on health secretary Matt Hancock to ‘get the basics right’ with technology before overhauling NHS systems and demanded ‘urgent investment in practice infrastructure’ to bring premises up to date.

The college called for interoperable IT systems, secure broadband, IT maintenance support and access to a single, shared electronic patient record across the NHS.

The manifesto says: ‘Recent developments in genomics, AI, digital medicine and robotics all present opportunities to potentially revolutionise patient care. General practice is ready to embrace these opportunities, but needs wider system changes to ensure opportunities are adopted safely and sustainably.

‘General practice needs technology that enables safe patient care fit for the 21st century, makes the lives of GPs and their teams easier and does not line the pockets of private investors at the expense of the NHS.’

Outdated IT systems

Figures published by the RCGP show that just 50% of GP practice premises are currently fit for purpose, while 80% are not fit for the future. The manifesto also highlights the technological gap between the NHS and health systems in other European countries like Estonia and Finland, which it says are ‘already using a shared electronic patient record’.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘GPs want the latest, cutting-edge tech at our disposal but we need the basics to work first. That means everything from making sure that our computers don’t crash while issuing a prescription, to making sure our systems talk to those in all hospitals so that we can improve the care and experience that our patients receive throughout the NHS.

‘We want the NHS to be a world leader in technology and we are ready for a new wave of exciting opportunities that have the potential to revolutionise patient care, but a lot of work is needed before that can happen, and we need to make sure these opportunities are embraced safely and sustainably with GPs at the centre of changes.’

Faster broadband

Speaking at the RCGP later today, Mr Hancock will announce plans to equip all NHS organisations and community care services with 'the fastest broadband available' to support 'radical improvements' in the range and quality of digital healthcare available under the long-term plan.

Mr Hancock said: 'Every day, our NHS staff do amazing work – but too often they are let down by outdated and unreliable technology. It’s simply unbelievable that a third of NHS organisations are using internet that can sometimes be little better than dial-up.

'To give people control over how they access NHS services, I want to unlock the full potential of technology  – this is the future for our 21st century healthcare system and a central part of our NHS Long Term Plan.'

Existing plans aimed to supply 70% of NHS organisations with fibre connectivity by August 2020, but Mr Hancock's new ambition is to provide every hospital, GP practice and community care service with 'faster, more reliable' fibre-to-the-premises connections 'as soon as possible'.

GP workload

The RCGP says technology used in the right way could reduce GP workload through automation of administrative tasks and the seamless sharing of patient information, and that it could empower patients through the delivery of remote care, self-management tools and enhanced diagnostic decision making.

Dr Farah Jameel, GPC executive team lead for IT, said: ‘Ensuring NHS IT systems and infrastructure are fit for purpose is fundamental for improving patient care and increasing productivity, and advances in technology have the potential to transform the lives of both healthcare staff and patients.

‘As the RCGP points out, we must walk before we can run, and getting the basics right must be the priority ahead of any promised "digital revolution". The college’s manifesto echoes what the BMA has been saying for some years about IT in general practice, and across the health service.’

Digital transformation

A recent BMA survey found that more than half of doctors felt the current IT infrastructure ‘significantly increased’ their day-to-day workload.

Dr Jameel added: ‘Basic hardware must be upgraded to meet a national standards, while patient experience and staff education and training must all be considered as key factors for achieving digital transformation.

‘As part of this year’s GP contract deal, GPC negotiated important digital commitments, ensuring improvements to the current GP IT estate and fully-resourced IT infrastructure that is both fit for purpose and for the future, aligning with national ambitions towards digital-first primary care. Only when systems can seamlessly communicate, be these in GP practices, hospitals or other settings, can we have a truly interoperable NHS and fully embrace a collaborative way of working to improve the lives of both staff and their patients.’

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