Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary: Tech an early priority

Now you may know that I am passionate about the opportunities that new technology – used intelligently – present to us. Because we are one NHS, our health system is uniquely placed to become the most advanced health system in the world – one where technology addresses the user need – making care better for patients, but just as importantly making life better for staff.

For too long, decisions on health and care have seemed to involve a trade-off – improving patient outcomes at the expense of placing ever more pressure on staff, while reducing the demands on staff has been seen to have an impact on patient care. Technology and data innovation offers an opportunity to move past this binary approach.

I came from a tech background before I went into politics, and I love using modern technology myself. Not only do I have my own app for communicating with my constituents here in West Suffolk, but as you may have heard I use an app for my GP.

The discussion around my use of a Babylon NHS GP, which works brilliantly for me, has been instructive. Some people have complained that the rules don’t work for care provided in this revolutionary new way. Others have said the algorithms sometimes throw up errors. Emphatically the way forward is not to curb the technology – it’s to keep improving it and – only if we need to – change the rules so we can harness new technology in a way that works for everyone: patient and practitioner. I want to see more technology like this available to all, not just a select few in a few areas of the country.

Technology used right is a catalyst for greater connectivity and empowerment – on both sides. Not only can the right use of technology save time and money, it can improve patient safety.

I want to pay tribute to Jeremy Hunt who personally did more than any other health secretary to drive changes which have led to a more open, learning culture that benefits staff and patients alike.

The patient safety agenda is important to me and I strongly believe properly integrated technology has the power further enhance safety and improve outcomes for patients. This sort of integration is happening. At the Bridgeside Lodge social care home yesterday I saw new technology in action.

The home links with GPs, with local hospitals and develops preventative pathways for each patient. Their electronic care planning system – on a phone – uses voice recognition, gives clinical staff better data about what’s happening to each patient, saves costs, and saves each nurse an estimated hour per shift, giving them more time to care.

Another new machine also measures blood coagulation at the home and emails it to the hospital. So instead of sending people to hospital for up to 3 days a week – with all the disruption and costs and risks such a visit entails – it takes 5 minutes.

Or take Scan4Safety – barcode tracking in hospitals that enable staff to track all patients and their treatments, manage medical supplies the effectiveness of equipment. This is an innovation that’s driving improvements in patient safety while saving money that can be invested in the front line. A pilot in 6 hospitals has already saved £8.7 million. There are pockets of excellent work taking place all over the country.

Right here in the West Suffolk, junior doctors and nurses will soon throw away their pagers and install a new smartphone app, removing the need to phone colleagues for details after getting paged – something that a pilot has shown should save nurses more than 20 minutes and doctors almost 50 minutes every shift.

The RCN’s ‘every nurse an e-nurse’ approach is showing how electronic health records and other smart tools can help nurses in and out of hospital work together to comprehensively address patients who have a range of health problems. Smartphone apps are only the start. Cutting edge technology is also improving safety and saving clinicians’ time.

Take the new partnership between UCLH and the Alan Turing Institute – harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and data science to support clinicians and make the treatment of patients fast, more efficient and safer. The question is how do we harness the best modern technology has to offer? How do we achieve this holy trinity of improving outcomes, helping clinicians and saving money?

I want to help provide answers, and I want to empower everyone in the health and care system who wants to provide those answers with me. And let me make this point.

Only in health and care has new technology always seemed to lead to inexorably higher costs. In every other area of life, innovation reduces waste and drives costs down not up. We’ve got to make that happen in health and care too.

There is huge variance in take-up, leading to variance in outcomes with patients getting different outcomes based on where they live. This variance must reduce.

And I want to see technology that releases funding to save lives elsewhere – on cancer survival rates for example – where we still lag behind the best in the world. I am hugely excited by the opportunities. I recognise, not least from my experience of leading tech transformation that to unlock them requires upfront investment.

I am delighted to announce a half a billion pound package to help jump start the rollout of innovative technology aimed at improving care for patients and supporting staff to embrace technology-driven health and care.

More than £400 million will go towards new technology in hospitals which make patients safer, make every pound go further and help more people access health services at home. It will be another major step along the road to full provider digitisation.

A further £75 million is available to Trusts to help them put in place state-of-the-art electronic systems which save money, give clinicians more time to spend on patients and reduce potentially deadly medication errors by up to 50% when compared to the old paper systems.

This money is just the start, and the entire £20 billion proposed for the NHS will be contingent on modern technological transformation. Of course money alone won’t work. We will put in place the data standards, and support the workforce to adopt change too. Some of this is about inventing new technology but in lots of places it is about adoption because we know there are places where this technology is working.

Just down the road in Cambridge the introduction of ePrescribing has halved the preparation time for medication provided to patients when they are discharged – meaning people are able to leave hospital faster.

We are working with Amazon so the NHS Choices health information that millions use each day can be tailored for voice activated devices. Currently, if you ask Alexa what to do about your back pain – you don’t know where the answer will be sourced from. We will change this so questions of this sort will mean you receive the expert information prepared by the NHS. This will be open to other home devices too.