Making better use of the NHS’s patient data could help save lives, but the digitisation of the health service in the UK has been hobbled by a lack of money, patience and resistance from GPs, according to a former NHS official.
The former official, speaking anonymously, said ministers sought to digitise the health service “on the cheap”, and the lack of funds was amplified by the fact that NHS trusts would often pull money back from digitisation for other priorities.
Ministers were fixated on making repeated announcements, rather than the “long hard grind” of pulling together the data, the official said. “Amazon took eight years to pull together less fractured data,” he noted.
The pandemic drove a surge in downloads of the NHS app, which enables every patient to view their medical records.
But the official said that only 15 per cent of GPs’ surgeries had enabled access to the app. “That ought to have been a national debate and a scandal,” he said.
Supporters of the digitisation of the NHS say it will improve outcomes for patients, help managers plans services and accelerate the discovery of new treatments. But critics including the MP David Davis are concerned about the security of sensitive health information.
This week, it was reported that one of the Conservative party’s biggest donors has profited from £135 million in government contracts to supply computer systems to the NHS, including supporting thousands of GP surgeries digitise health records.
Frank Hester, CEO of The Phoenix Partnership (TPP) of which he is the only shareholder, have paid out £23.5 million in dividends between 2019 and 2022. This summer, he donated £5 million to the Conservatives.
TPP told the Guardian it did not wish to comment on it’s NHS contracts and whether all the dividends were paid to Hester.
During Covid the NHS licensed software from the US company Palantir, which was co-founded by Peter Thiel, to manage ventilators and PPE equipment and help deliver the vaccination programme. Palantir is now bidding for the £480 million contract to build the NHS’s data platform.
The Department for Health and Social Care and NHS Digital were approached for comment.