Matt Hancock promises patient barcodes and digital prescriptions as part of 'tech transformation' of the NHS

New health secretary pledges to seize the ‘vast’ opportunities for using technology to improve patient care

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 20 July 2018 10:01 BST
NHS at 70: A timeline of the National Health Service and its crisis

Matt Hancock has promised a technological “transformation” of the NHS, as he proposed giving patients barcodes and ordering hospitals to do away with paper prescriptions.

The new health secretary, who took over from Jeremy Hunt last week, used his first speech to health professionals to tell them “a tech transformation is coming”.

He made a clear attempt to repair relations with NHS staff, who had an often-strained relationship with his predecessor, particularly after a dispute over junior doctors’ pay.

Mr Hancock also focussed on harnessing the power of technology in his previous role as culture secretary, famously even creating his own “Matt Hancock” app for constituents.

In a speech at West Suffolk Hospital (his first as health secretary), he outlined plans to boost technological innovation in the NHS.

“In all my experience the small part is finding or inventing the technology,” he said. “The big part is embedding a culture of always looking for the best possible technology and embracing it.

“I want to drive that culture change, and I want to work with everyone across the NHS and social care system to embrace the next generation of technology.

“From today let this be clear: tech transformation is coming.

“The opportunities of new technology, done right across the whole of health and social care, are vast. Let’s work together to seize them.”

He praised the Scan4Safety scheme, which sees patients given a barcode so they can be easily tracked and monitored by staff. A similar system is used to manage medical supplies and equipment.

He urged hospitals to move away from paper prescriptions and upgrade computer systems in order to improve patient safety and care.

The health secretary also announced a £412m investment to help hospitals improve their use of technology, while a further £75m will be available for upgrading computer systems in order to save money and cut potentially lethal medication errors.

Mr Hancock used the speech to rebuild relations between the government and NHS staff, describing low morale among employees as “heartbreaking”.

“The nation’s health is determined by the health of the health and care workforce, so it is heartbreaking to see how undervalued you often feel.

“The sense of duty and public service that motivates you to go into health and care is one of the things that make the NHS the institution it is.”

Pitching himself as a staunch ally of NHS workers, he added: “I am determined that the commitment you show to your patients is matched by the commitment we show to you.

“So I have a clear message: I value you. I admire you. I will fight for you and I will champion you.”

NHS at 70: A timeline of the National Health Service and its crisis

As part of plans to improve conditions for NHS staff, Mr Hancock announced e a consultation on issues facing employees, including bullying and harassment, workforce diversity, training and career progression.

He told staff: “I want to ensure training is organised and funded so that everyone can reach their full potential.

“You know better than me the pace at which modern medicine moves, and so it’s crucial that your training looks to incorporate new technology that can save you time and offer better care.”

Mr Hancock also urged NHS leaders to do more to increase diversity in the workforce, pointing to the fact that only five health service chief executives come from a BAME background.

Approximately 12 per cent of NHS staff feel they are discriminated against, he said – a figure that rises to 24 per cent for people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

He added: “People cannot be expected to deliver world class care when facing bullying and harassment on this scale.”

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