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£7 billion and the failure to deliver electronic health records

Ami Banerjee
Last edited 14th September 2012

£7 billion has been spent on developing electronic medical records within the NHS since 2002, part of the ambitious £11.4bn NHS IT project. It turns out that £7 billion is a common figure in NHS stats. It could buy you GP services in England for a year. £7 billion is spent annually on NHS services in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. It is the amount that stroke costs the NHS per year. The NHS would save £7 billion if it used generic or unbranded drugs instead of branded medicines. The NHS Institute reckons it could save £7 billion per year by implementing six scaleable interventions across hospitals, general practice and community health services.

But the important one is that between 2003 and 2006, the government spent the same amount on private consultancy firms to advise on health policy and services, and a lot of that money was spent on IT.

I qualified as a doctor in 2002, and it still beggars belief that little has changed when I go to see a hospital patient admitted in the middle of the night and ask for the old notes. The old notes are requested by the ward clerk who looks them up on a computer, often predating the machines Bill Gates cut his teeth programming on. Any amount of time from hours to sometimes days can elapse before these important documents are located. I think every patient should have the opportunity to see the sometimes prehistoric conditions old notes are kept in.

For the third time, the National Audit Office has found little progress and doubts whether the deadline of 2016 (already 6 years late) will be met, but even though electronic health records are the norm in primary care settings, hospitals are not getting there quickly, despite many improvements, including electronic image viewers, electronic discharge letters and prescriptions.

There is no question that electronic health records can be a game-changer in healthcare, whether in hospitals or general practice; whether in medical emergencies or in care of chronic diseases, but we are not close to bringing this to all NHS patients yet. Interestingly, e-health record systems for more than 10 million patients do not seem to work. Perhaps we can take some consolation that our friends across the pond have not yet decided how keen they are on e-health records either.

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