Using technology to improve delivery of health and care services

Life sciences minister George Freeman on how integrated data and technology can improve the delivery of effective health and care services.

George Freeman, Minister for Life Sciences

I’m delighted to speak to you again about the important work that is being carried out in a true spirit of partnership by the organisations represented in this room.

Today I want to talk about one of the great opportunities for our 21st century health and care system - which is harnessing the power of integrated data and technology to improve the delivery of effective health and care services throughout our nation.

We need to transform healthcare in the NHS from a 20th century model in which health is something done TO you by government providers when it suits them, to a 21st century world in which we empower people to become active healthcare citizens:

  • with choice but most powerfully with information
  • to take more responsibility over their own health and life choices.

We are progressing well, as Secretary of State mentioned in his speech yesterday:

  • last year we became the first country in the world to publish consultant surgery outcomes across 12 specialties
  • we have also published information regarding GP surgeries, care homes and mental health services on MyNHS
  • Friends and Family test, which asks people if they would recommend their care to a friend or a member of their family has now reached an important milestone with over 10m responses
  • last year public satisfaction with the running of the NHS went up by 5%, its second highest level ever.
  • the number who think NHS care is safe has also gone up by 7% and number who think people are treated with dignity and respect up by 13%.

All very positive but to drive these successes further Secretary of State announced yesterday:

  • by the end of 2018 all doctors and nurses will be able to access the most up to date lifesaving information wherever a patient is in England by GP surgeries, ambulance service and A&E. This will expand to social care by 2020.
  • within 12 months all patients will be able to access their own GP electronic record
  • by 2018 this record will include information from all their health and care interactions
  • vitally important is to assure the security of confidential medical information – Secretary of State yesterday announced the forthcoming consultation on the role of the National Data Guardian and he has asked Dame Fiona Caldicott to work with the CQC to provide their recommendations as to how the new guidelines will be assured and enforced
  • to add to all our recent successes and Secretary of State’s announcements, my challenge to you as system leaders is to optimise this opportunity to help deliver healthier longer lives for our citizens and to make sure that quality health and care services are sustainable for the future.

Unique opportunity of the National Information Board

The National Information Board is uniquely placed to rise to this challenge.

  • your membership brings together leaders from organisations spanning the breadth of health and care
  • you have a unique opportunity to unite the whole health and care system to embrace data and technology for the benefit of patients – and to deliver the efficiencies required to guarantee quality, sustainable services
  • the National Information Board has demonstrated its ability to be this uniting force in the work it has done so far and I would like to thank you for that

Since the publication of the National Information Board’s framework for action - Personalised Health and Care 2020: Using data and technology to transform outcomes for patients and citizens – in November 2014, National Information Board members have been working together and with others to develop more detailed plans for delivery of the transformation of health and care.

These plans are now coming to fruition and I would urge you as system leaders to prioritise them so that the focus of the health and care system will be on the things that will make most difference for patients, citizens, professionals and the tax payer.

We have made progress in harnessing data and technology for transformation so far, for example:

  • nearly 6.5m patients are enabled for online appointment booking and ordering of repeat prescriptions
  • 3m patients registered for online access to GP Records
  • in 2013/14:
    • 2.4m prescriptions ordered online
    • 1.1m GP appointments booked online
    • over 2.5m patients are enabled to use online access to records (medications, allergies and adverse reactions)

But there’s still more to do. We heard from Jeremy yesterday and his challenges to the NHS – technology is the key enabler to achieve our ambitions.


We need to continue to encourage patients and citizens to use new technologies to better manage their health, care and treatment. And they need to feel confident in doing so

A process for endorsing health and care applications is being developed under the NIB – the first such process of its kind anywhere

Led by NICE, PHE and HSCIC, this will help citizens and professionals alike identify digital health applications that are effective and safe. I am pleased to report that this process will begin to be piloted from later this month.


Improving the quality and convenience of services is of course paramount. But we must not forget the potential of data and technology to deliver more efficient services which offer better value for the tax payer.

We need to significantly increase the efficiency of our health and care services now and for the future – data and technology have the power to do this.

An example of the efficiencies that can be made through intelligent use of technology is the redevelopment of the NHS Spine by the Health and Social Care Information Centre last year:

  • Spine is the technological backbone of the NHS and allows safe care to be delivered to patients, enabling a smooth running NHS for around 28,000 organisations, including hospitals, GP surgeries, Ambulance Trusts, NHS 111 services and pharmacies
  • operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it handles up to 1,800 transactions per second and incorporates a national demographic database of over 70m patients
  • last year, HSCIC developed and successfully launched a new version of Spine, with only five minutes of planned downtime for the 300,000 NHS workers who log on each day
  • in its first year of operation the new Spine will save £21m as compared to the old system
  • there is 89% reduction in response time between the old and new Spine, meaning that the NHS saves 750 hours every single day as a result of this faster, more intuitive technology, releasing time and resources for patient care
  • the new Spine is designed to be a lasting, adaptable service for the NHS and care sectors, which will change to meet their future needs
  • it has been designed to support innovation in healthcare technology and allow developers and local teams to build bespoke products that meet the particular needs of their patients and users.

A fantastic example of what the effective use of technology can achieve.

Digital technologies can transform the ways in which patients can take control of their health and wellbeing. We are increasingly offering the ability for patients to interact with services digitally, for example ordering prescriptions and booking GP appointments, at their own convenience. This is changing the way patients think about healthcare as we move into an era of increased patient empowerment.

Building public confidence in data use

Today’s event is all about hearing the benefits that better use of technology and data can bring. We need to earn public confidence in how data is:

  • being used to improve health, care and outcomes while
  • protecting personal confidentiality

This kind of confidence and trustworthiness is vital to achieve the benefits we all want to see.

Sharing data is vital to both improving the care for individuals but also in driving up performance across the system and to enable future medical breakthroughs through research.

This is a revolution that needs to be carried by trusted experts and clinicians – like our National Data Guardian – and not politicians. We heard yesterday from Jeremy Hunt that we will be consulting on the role of the National Data Guardian – a vital role.

We need the trusted voices of our NHS health and care professionals lead the debate about how better use of data can improve and save lives.

Improved outcomes via research

Better use of data is not only about the immediate benefits it delivers.

Better data will not just enable patients, service users, citizens and professionals to benefit from genomic science but could transform life sciences and research fundamentally.

It will drive new approaches to health and care that transcend traditional delivery boundaries, embrace new technologies and establish new partnerships across geographies and clinical and diagnostic specialisms. It will aid rapid implementation of the innovation pipeline from discovery to adoption and spread into clinical practice. It will transform diagnosis. We can create new collaborations between the NHS, technology companies and patients to unlock the potential of data, technology and digital to create products for smarter, faster and better healthcare and thereby grow the digital health sector, an emerging area of UK innovation.

The creation of an open infrastructure and a transparent framework of standards will be key enablers in encouraging research and innovation. However, more needs to be done.

Enhanced support for innovation will require a realignment of available investment funds, including future technology funds, the development of new investment flows, and the strengthening of partnerships with the research community, including AHSNs, Catapult centres and industry.

We have an opportunity to combine different technologies and changed ways of working in order to transform care delivery through ‘combinatorial innovation’. The stated ambition of the Five Year Forward View is that the NHS will become one of the best places in the world to test innovations that require staff, technology and funding all to align in a health system, with universal coverage serving a large and diverse population.

I therefore would like to ask you, as system leaders, to prioritise the uptake of technology and ensure the workforce have the skills and the will to embrace it.

We have the evidence which demonstrates the benefits of data sharing – we all need to ensure we influence our peers and patients alike to make the difference.

I urge you to continue the excellent work being undertaken, continue with the momentum and drive to make the real change we need.

Published 3 September 2015