By Carl Packman on 23 Apr 2015
How are political parties promising to take healthcare into the 21st century?
Sometimes what isn’t said is as important as what is. Many of us political geeks have had time to absorb the messages contained in the party manifestos and we know that in order to really get an idea of what’s being said, we must do more than just read between the lines.
Back in 2002 the NHS was gifted the National Programme for IT, launched and deployed in order to revolutionise the way in which the health system used information technology. The ambition for it was impressive – with costs to match.
According to the National Audit Office the estimated total cost of the NPfIT has changed since a 2011 report from £11.4bn to £9.8bn which took into account the number of system implementations. Some have called it a vanity project; what has resulted is big IT projects are a political no-go area, but haven’t necessarily resulted in a start-up revolution in digital contracts within the NHS.
Clearly it’s still a fine balance. Advocating for greater health technologies and better interoperational systems to benefit patients and being healthcare into the 21st century is important – but there might be some residual risk aversion by political parties, especially in the lead-up to this incredibly NHS-focused election.
So which parties – to raise that loaded question again – are planning to bring the NHS into the 21st century, and are happy to say so in the election literature? I shall start with the former coalition parties, then the opposition.
7-day GP access came as a pretty early pledge for the Tories, and the seemingly impossible mission might have been called because they know this is their election to lose, not for the opposition – who are more trusted with the NHS – to lose. But returning to an old favourite, p.38 of their manifesto reads:
“We will boost transparency even further, ensuring you can access full information about the safety record of your hospital and other NHS or independent providers, and give patients greater choice over where and how they receive care. We will give you full access to your own electronic health records, while retaining your right to opt-out of your records being shared electronically.”
Two things stand out for the former yellow hue of the coalition:
“[We will] Ensure easier access to GPs, expanding evening and weekend opening, encouraging phone and Skype appointments, encouraging GPs to work together in federations, and allowing people more choice.”
And, as E-Health Insider suggest, the party “also appears to represent … plans to “set aside £250 million from the sale of redundant NHS assets” to fund a “digital revolution” in the health service that were unveiled at the end of last week.”
For Labour the digital revolution inside the NHS has taken a step back. Promising “20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, and 3,000 more midwives” funded through various means such as a tax on smokers and the mansion tax, the party is addressing sweet spots. But there is nothing on information systems. Some will wonder whether that’s because the party calls for less private sector provision within the health service, but others will simply question the wisdom of leaving the subject out altogether.
Not a digital NHS election?
Sure, the issue isn’t going to bring in the swing voters, but two things do play on my mind: with regards to the NPfIT there was a massive scandal about public spending waste, and it was something on which many politicians involved were not willing to talk up about – nor has there been any attempt to clear the air now.
The second thing is that once upon a time the promise of personalised public services and personalisation within the NHS were hot potatoes. They appear less so now.
But as I say, some things are more telling when they are not said. But it is not something any communication professional would necessarily recommend, nor any member of the public appreciate.