Responding to the Francis report, which called on the NHS to make better use of technology to help ensure safe care, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a new £260 million fund for hospitals.
Last year at least 11 people died in the NHS because they were given the wrong prescriptions. The new fund will be used to increase the use of technology which will help stop drugs being prescribed incorrectly because patients’ notes have been lost.
Errors are said to be present in as many as eight percent of hospital prescriptions and studies have shown that the use of technology can cut these errors by half.
The fund will help protect patients by ensuring that doctors and nurses are able to access accurate details about the care of a patient. Hunt said: "If we are to improve patient safety then we must allow the NHS to have access to the best tools available and this fund will help them achieve that."
The fund will be used by hospitals to replace outdated paper-based systems for patient notes and prescriptions, and is seen by Hunt as a critical stepping-stone in helping the NHS "go digital by 2018".
It will be primarily used for "electronic prescribing", which is computer generated prescriptions sent by doctors directly to pharmacies, linked to barcodes unique to each patient.
The fund will also be used for creating electronic systems linked to patient records, like the system at St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust, which has all its patient records accessible online for doctors and nurses.
Another example cited is the system at New Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where an online portal allows patients to view and update their own medical records so doctors can get instant, real-time updates.
According to research just published by consulting firm Accenture, 31 percent of doctors in England were routine users of health IT systems, up from 29 percent in 2011, and most doctors (82 percent) use electronic medical records (EMR).
Improved decision-making ability (79 percent) and reduced medical errors (79 percent) were seen as chief benefits of health IT systems among the 500 doctors surveyed by Accenture.