NHS trusts you have just four weeks to get your submissions in for the £260m Technology Fund…On your marks!

Really? Just one month? Is this realistic? Why such a short period of time to get expressions of interest in? Is this money burning a hole in the government’s pocket? Although I have to say, maybe this prompt action is what’s needed, let’s face it, there was a laboured, rather prescriptive national IT programme, which plodded on for years, never really delivered and poured millions down the drain!

The deal here is that awards will be made by October 22nd 2013 and that overall, trusts have to have implemented by March 2015 (those that meet a capital investment profile and advanced state of readiness, have to be implemented by March 2014) – so there’s no hanging around! What this does mean is that “vapourware” really has to be off the table! The more I think about this, the more promising I think it sounds because trusts will use working IT solutions. That is those that are delivering results, those that are not cumbersome solutions that take years to deploy, and moreover, those that have been developed based on clinical need, rather than on a misguided government mandate.

Maybe this is a chance to expedite real, benefits-driven systems into provider organisations sooner rather than later – a political way of removing the politics! I just hope the government isn’t seeing it though as a quick fix or a way of demonstrating action rather than words… The sceptic in me however, says there’s a general election just a couple of years away (note deadlines for deployment!) and evidence is needed to support ‘investment in the NHS’ campaign messages! Oh, and a tick in the box against actions raised as a result of the Francis report!

But back to a positive perspective – there is a clear mandate for this fund: “Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards; Achieving an integrated digital care record” and let’s not forget ‘matched funding’. This is a real opportunity to crack down on paper-based systems – frontline staff resourcing is an increasing nightmare in the NHS, let’s help them by automating systems and lessening the paperwork burden, so they can focus more on what they do best – delivering care!

(Just as an aside, it does always make me chuckle the fact every IT vendor, has branded pens to give out to satisfy the NHS’ love for a useful freebie – a bit ironic really!)

I gave birth (again) not long ago! (Now I had hoped that some bright spark would have made that a digital process by now, rather than a natural one!) My care was faultless, but the pressures on staff were all too evident. What amazes me still though, is that I need to carry around with me my paper book of maternity notes and that my community midwife writes my blood results and other test results in to that book off the IT system! Then when in hospital, my obs were tracked on a paper chart, inserted into a ring binder and hung at the end of my bed. Then, after the baby was born the midwife spent 45 minutes typing up my notes! I know data entry can be prone to error but it’s far safer than handwritten communications, which all too often are open to interpretation and supposition or result in repeat procedures being required!

We owe it to our wonderful but fallible NHS staff to make digitisation a reality, if they are going to continue to be stretched – to be administrators as well as care givers. Let’s ignore any political undercurrents and just get on with getting patient notes, vital signs tracking, referrals and prescriptions all digital. Integrated care will become reality far quicker too!

As an industry interested-party, a patient, a tax payer and someone who has many family members and friends working in the NHS, I urge trusts to seize the moment and make good use of this money that’s on the table now. I know you have to act fast but this is a chance to fast-track more of the good technology that exists, into your organisations. To get what you want and what you need at a local level, and that will make a real difference to your patients, but perhaps moreover, to your staff!

Go, go, go!

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