Information Strategy arrives: Information-power to the people!

The much anticipated Information Strategy was delivered on Monday morning and as you would expect surrounded by much commentary, unveiling a series of ambitious yet logical plans, designed to enable IT to support health secretary Andrew Lansley’s entrenched mantra “nothing about me, without me”.

The long-awaited strategy is intended as a 10-year framework to transform information for health and care, and a response to the consultation on Liberating the NHS: an information revolution. The strategy, developed after extensive consultation, sets out a framework for changes and is titled ‘The power of information: Putting us all in control of the health and care information we need’.

The document states that as part of this transformation, information must become “regarded as a health and social care service in its own right”. It says there is a need to catalyse a cultural shift in favour of information sharing and information enabled services.

Summarising the content EHI reported how the strategy urges health and social care services to make full use of online technologies to put patients in control of their health records and that it puts a particular emphasis on the creation of portals for patients, health professionals, commissioners and researchers, in a series of moves that Andrew Lansley says will free up the “power” of information.

Meanwhile the Guardian reported on the King’s Fund’s response, who issued a warning, stating that the strategy raises technical and financial challenges and will rely on the pace and scale of local take up. Dr Veena Raleigh, a senior fellow at the health think-tank commented: “While we welcome the ambition and direction of the strategy, at a time of unprecedented financial constraint, some commissioners and providers will find it challenging to invest in developing information systems rather than frontline services.”

If by 2015, all general practices will be expected to enable patients to book and cancel appointments, order repeat prescriptions, and access their records online, surely IT enabled access to health and care information is in a sense a frontline service.

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New report out – Leadership and engagement for improvement in the NHS

Another report was issued this week, entitled ‘Leadership and engagement for improvement in the NHS: Together we can‘, this one from the industry think-tank The King’s Fund. The culmination of a year-long review has found that as well as abandoning a leadership style driven by targets, healthcare outcomes are improved when there is a focus on getting staff and patients involved in how care is delivered.

The report makes the case for engaging staff, patients and boards and for building relationships across systems of care. Building on the work of The King’s Fund’s 2011 Leadership Commission, the 2012 review has taken evidence from a number of national and international experts. Their evidence makes a compelling case for leadership and engagement:

  • Organisations whose staff are engaged deliver a better patient experience, fewer errors and higher staff morale.
  • Engaging patients in their care can ensure that care is more appropriate and improve outcomes.
  • Increasing recognition of the importance of integrated care requires leaders to be effective across systems, both within and outside the NHS.

Stifling productivity and rationing

More evidence emerged this week that targets are stifling productivity. GP’s issued a stark warning that as the NHS continues in its quest to make its £20bn cost savings, patients are suffering as a consequence and waiting times for operations are getting longer.

Reported on the BBC and speaking ahead of the BMA’s Local Medical Committee Conference this week, Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, said: “Most people understand the NHS is not a bottomless pit and there are limitations to what can be done.

“But GPs are increasingly getting worried about rationing. There are huge variations in what can and can’t be provided from place to place.

“We are also seeing more restrictions on when we can refer patients. It means people needing things such as hip and knee replacements wait longer and suffer unnecessarily.”

Health minister Lord Howe retorted saying: “Last year we made it clear that it is unacceptable for the NHS to impose blanket bans for treatment on the basis of costs.

“That is why we banned primary care trusts from putting caps on the number of people who could have certain operations and from imposing minimum waiting times.”

UK hospitals can ruin your health!

It appears Jamie Oliver could be required to help in our hospitals as well as our schools! International online broadcaster RT reported how being sent to a hospital in the UK could ruin your health, on account of the fact that three quarters of fast food meals are healthier than the food that is being served in our British hospitals!

The study conducted by the Sustain campaign group found that the food served in NHS hospitals contains 60 percent more salt than an average burger. One curry portion served to patients had six times more fat than a KFC Zinger Burger with fries. After examining 25 meals from the NHS Supply Chain, a portion of pasta has over three times a person’s total daily-recommended saturated fat intake and twice the salt limit.

The study further says that over 82,000 meals are binned each day, despite massive government spending of £50m in the last decade. The Campaign for Better Hospital Food is demanding that the government introduce compulsory minimum food standards into the NHS.

In light of these results, the NHS has issued an apology stating: “There’s no excuse for any hospital offering poor quality food.” However, they have stressed that it is up to hospitals to cater to the needs of their patients.

News in brief

  • Dementia App spots early signs of condition: The CANTABmobile test assesses patients’ short-term memory with a series of challenges in which they have to remember symbols. Trials show that it accurately distinguishes normal age-related forgetfulness from dementia and other treatable memory problems.
  • Hospital infections down but new strains emerging: The BBC reports on how superbugs MRSA and C.difficile rates have dropped but other infections like E.coli appear to have taken their place.
  • Bristol acutes consider merger: HSJ (subscription required) reports how University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust and North Bristol Trust have set up a project board to consider whether the two organisations should merge to create an organisation with a turnover close to £1bn.
  • NHS workers reject pension reforms: Government hopes of resolving the bitter public sector pensions dispute were dealt a fresh blow this week when a group of health workers rejected the controversial reforms, reported The Independent. The GMB union, which represents 30,000 NHS employees, said its members voted by 96% against the planned changes in a turnout of around 60%.
  • ICO issues second data loss fine: Computer Business Review revealed how the Information Commissioner’s Office has fined the Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust £90,000 for a serious breach of the Data Protection Act.
  • Kettering becomes latest System C/McKesson win: Unable to wait for Lorenzo, EHI has reported that Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has agreed a deal with System C (a McKesson company), via the soon to be defunct ASCC framework to implement its patient administration system and electronic patient record.
  • DH to axe HealthSpace from March 2013: It follows a speech earlier this week by Dr Charles Gutteridge, national clinical director for informatics at the Department of Health, in which he said that: “although he has used HealthSpace to communicate with patients, he did not think it was a technology that would ever take off.” The Guardian reported him saying “… it is just too difficult.”

Opinion

As the dust settles following the passage of the Health and Social Care Act, one of the most absorbing questions for health policy watchers (apart from the process of implementation) will be how Labour responds, having fought so hard and long against the Bill.

Ruth Thorlby writing for the Nuffield Trust asks: Health policy after the Bill: what now for Labour?

Should their policy be to repudiate the entire Act, or are there in fact elements which are sound and should be kept? This and other questions are now absorbing Labour’s Health Policy Commission, which is aspiring to build policy by consulting a broad base of Labour supporters.

A few hints about how things might develop were dropped by Ed Miliband in his speech to the annual congress of the Royal College of Nurses (subscription required) last week. Miliband unequivocally embraced one new element of the Act’s architecture – Health and Wellbeing Boards – which he suggested could be used as a tool to counter Government policy on competition.

This reflects an enthusiastic response by local government to the new structures created by the Health and Social Care Bill and the move of public health into local authorities.

Highland Marketing blog

This week Sarah Bruce reviews whether there were any surprises in the Information Strategy.

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