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techUK welcomes Lib Dems £250 million ‘Transformation Fund’ for tech

techUK has welcomed a pledge from the Liberal Democrats to set aside £250 million from the sale of redundant NHS assets to fund new technology in the health service. 

The one-off 'Transformation Fund', to enable more online appointments and electronic repeat prescriptions, represents a significant commitment to the 'paperless NHS' agenda that began with Jeremy Hunt's challenge to the NHS in 2013.

Nonetheless, with the recent re-allocation of resources from the Integrated Digital Technology Fund (Tech Fund 2) to other areas of the health service there will be projects that go without funding and/or are significantly scaled down, which means that there is still a way to go to meet the Digital Challenge, and many of the areas we highlighted in our One Year On report remain unaddressed.

The increased use of computer and smartphone-enabled communication services - such as Skype (that the Lib Dems have identified) and others – has the potential to give millions of people all but instant access to professional advice and consultation from anywhere in the UK, providing more efficient and cost - effective services. Moreover, tech-enabled care services have the potential to give clinicians and researchers the real-time information they need to prevent individual and public health problems before they escalate. techUK is pleased to see that the Lib Dem Transformation Fund (that is ring-fenced for technology) will therefore be separate from the extra £8bn funding to which they have already committed.

However, it remains important for the next government to understand that there are still significant technical and cultural barriers to ensure technology can deliver a truly transformative approach to health and social care; and that there is more to delivering paperless systems than doing more of the same, but online. The paperless agenda is not an end in itself, but a way to add tangible value to the delivery of health and social care services. What is needed is a step-change in the way users, buyers and suppliers of health and care solutions think and act. In our response to the National Information Board's Personalised Health and Care 2020, we identified four areas in which it's vital for the suppler community and the NHS to work together to ensure effective implementation of the digital agenda:

Accreditation – it is important to build both clinician and public confidence in using new technology, but if the proposals for accreditation are to be implemented they should be based on self-certification to (a) avoid the process becoming a drain on innovation and (b) ensure that SMEs in particular can provide services to the NHS without disproportionate cost.

Interoperability – interoperability is a fundamental pillar to delivering integrated care, but the current standards need to be reviewed and reformed. We have outlined in Our Vision for Interoperability the key principles that should be applied to interoperability standards, to enable information to interchange with systems securely and ensure public services are delivered in a seamless way. It highlights the need for open interoperability; information to be shared across all sectors - public, private, independent and third sector; market driven innovation and business led design of standards; light-touch accreditation when accreditation is necessary; and investment in health informatics education, training and R&D to encourage more informed customers in the sector.

Procurement – we agree with the recommendation to 'support care professionals to make best use of data and technology'. Too often those procuring new systems and those using them are not the same people, and too many people are not equipped with the right knowledge and skills necessary to be informed customers. techUK is in the process of creating a techmap which will begin to address this problem. It will give providers the information they need to navigate the supplier market, build connections with the relevant companies and identify the products and services that best suit their needs. It will also ensure that suppliers can invest time, resource and money into business opportunities that are appropriate for them and their offering.

The Power of Data – the ability for data and analytics to transform health care and research cannot be overstated, but strong Information Governance (IG) and data security will be required before public trust is high enough to enable comprehensive use. HSCIC's commitment to re-launching an improved IG Toolkit is one important development, which techUK is and will continue to be involved in.

Taken together, action in these areas will make the aims of both the Five Year Forward View and Personalised Health and Care 2020 much more achievable. With the Care Act also substantially integrating NHS and Local Authority services, there has never been a more important time to get it right: a lot more is now being asked of the systems we have.

This insight is part of techUK's wider engagement with all political parties ahead of the 2015 General Election, building on our asks of the next potential government as laid out in Securing our Digital Future: the techUK manifesto for Growth and Jobs 2015-2020.

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