NHS must improve use of data or go bust, health boss warns

NHS England could run out of money if it doesn’t improve its use of data and information and adopt digital tools, according to NHS patients and information director Tim Kelsey.


NHS England could run out of money if it doesn’t improve its use of data and information and adopt digital tools, according to NHS patients and information director Tim Kelsey.

Kelsey said: “There is a huge public appetite for digital, but in healthcare we encounter almost none of it. 76 percent of the population use the internet but only two percent of us have ever engaged digitally with the NHS. We’ve got to change that.”

He cited the example of e-Prescribing software as a tool which can save money and lives, but has not been broadly adopted by the NHS.

Kelsey said: “An appalling fact, of which we should be ashamed, is that e-Prescribing software is only commissioned in 12 percent of hospitals, despite clear evidence that it saves lives. That is staggering.”

He said: “2015/16 will be the most difficult spending round ever for the NHS. It could be the year the NHS runs out of money.”

Kelsey also warned that proposals to change European laws on data protection pose a risk to NHS plans to share data.

He said the proposed law, dubbed the 'General Data Protection Regulation', is "very, very worrying. We cannot accept the legislative context being proposed." 

NHS could save £16.5 billion a year

Kelsey was speaking at the launch of a report which claims the NHS could save between £16.5 billion and £66 billion per year by improving its use of information and data analytics.

The NHS has a budget of £96 billion this year but will face a funding gap of £34 billion by 2020 if budget freezes continue.

The report said local collaboration, investment in data skills, more information sharing and use of data analytics could help shift the NHS to a more proactive, personalised care model focused on prevention.

The research, which was conducted by consultants Volterra Partners on behalf of IT firm EMC, cited examples of schemes which, if rolled out nationally, could enable significant savings.

They authors claimed the NHS could save £5 billion every year in staff time by eliminating the 10 percent of time “currently being wasted by lack of access to information.”

The report said £840 million could be saved every year if the NHS used better informatics to identify high risk patients and thus reduce A&E visits and emergency admissions.

The research also suggested that better informatics could reduce cancer admissions by 30 percent, saving £60 million a year.


However Kelsey was optimistic about ongoing reforms such as access to online medical records.

He added: “But we’re starting to shift power from doctor to patient and allow individuals to take more control. By the end of this year everyone will have online access to their GP record…also personal healthcare budgets will give us an opportunity for a different sort of digital collaboration.”

He was also bullish about the prospects of the controversial care.data programme, which aims to create a database of people’s GP medical records.

The project had to be delayed in February after criticism that the public had not been sufficiently informed and a backlash from privacy experts who said that patients could be identifiable by data linkage.

But Kelsey said: “Care.data will make the biggest contribution to the NHS for our generation. It is now in a much stronger place than it was earlier this year.”

He added: “It is a big part of our plans to transform data and the way its structured in the NHS. We’re shortly due to list the CCGs [clinical commissioning groups] due to start collecting data.”