This week the NHS Future Forum published its latest report spurring on headlines from the tabloids such as ‘NHS staff lacking compassion and ability to do their job’ and ‘doctors and nurses told to slim so patients listen.

But for those IT and NHS professionals waiting for the long over due Information Strategy there were few headlines that could provide even a little direction on where their efforts should best be placed. In summary the report on information, needed…more information.

The report, much of what was leaked before Christmas, provided little that was new.

The key recommendations of the report around information were:

Patient ownership of data – a requirement for patients to be able to access their records online by 2015 and for the British Medical Association, Royal College of General Practitioners,  NHS Commissioning Board and patient organisations to help to deliver a plan to roll this out, which includes an ethical and concrete consent process.

Data sharing – A move away from the National Programme for IT to interoperability and a call for the Information Strategy to clearly set out what is expected for providers of NHS services as well as a deadline.

  • For contractual agreements to be put in place so ensure that the entire NHS has systems that allow full electronic data sharing against set standards.
  • For hospital discharge summaries to be made available to the GP and patient at the point of discharge, and GP referral letters to be made available at the point of referral.
  • For the universal adoption of the NHS number at the point of data capture across health and social care by 2013.
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Information governance – The Government should commission a review of the current information governance rules and of their application, to report during 2012 to ensure appropriate balance between the protection of patient information and the use and sharing of information.

Using data to drive quality – A clinician who is responsible for organising data should be identified within every NHS and social care organisation.

Transparency – The need for a clear deadline for all information about clinical outcomes is put in the public domain and the need for the Information Strategy to emphasis the importance of patient‐generated comments through social media and for the NHS to use these to improve services.

Although there is little that is new, there are a couple of interesting points. Firstly, that the medical bodies will be asked to consult on the plan to allow patients to access their records online. However, there is no mention of suppliers/providers of the technology. The lack of communication between the technology world and the clinical world was one that led some of the major failures under NPfIT, could this be at risk of happening again?

A number of additional deadlines are set out, such as the adoption of the NHS number by 2013 (which was introduced 15 years ago) and for information about clinical outcomes to be placed in the public domain, but there is little information on the mechanisms that will drive these deadlines.

Perhaps more interestingly is the call for an emphasis on social media to improve services. While an innovative and forward thinking idea, this in itself needs an entire document and a huge amount of education aimed at the industry and NHS, considering only around half of NHS organisations actively use Twitter, for example.

The recommendations appear to provide a vague brief to build on and leave questions that it seems can only be answered by the Information Strategy, which  will allegedly arrive in the spring.

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