Ex-minister speaks of ‘horror’ of having to digitise the NHS with no plan

A former life sciences minister has reportedly spoken of the ‘horror’ of being awarded significant money to create a digital NHS with no plan as to how to do it.

Despite being responsible for promoting the use of technology in healthcare, George Freeman told a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference last week that he was frozen out of the spending talks in which new investment in a paperless NHS was agreed.

Instead, Freeman and his civil servants were told to set out how they would spend the money once it had already been allocated.

Then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a five-year, £4.2 billion investment in NHS IT in 2016. The intention was to advance NHS digitisation.

According to BBC News, Freeman said he and colleagues were initially delighted to have been given the money. But when it came to the delivery plan, the ‘system’ proved incapable of capitalising on the investment.

He also said the team charged with designing the new digital system had based their work on academic literature rather than the experiences of patients and clinicians.

The Mid-Norfolk MP, who previously had a career in biomedical venture capital, also said his self-proclaimed ‘horror story’ highlights how top down solutions never work.

Instead, he told the Taxpayers’ Alliance meeting that the answer was ‘lots of local digital solutions’ designed by doctors and believes the IT industry will ‘quickly’ work out how to make systems talk to each other.

Freeman is reported to have said: “Hiring an off-the-shelf big package from one of the big companies has been proven time and again to fail.”

The former minister spoke at Digital Health’s Leadership Summit in 2016, where he said in a recorded message that ministers were “completely behind” the digitisation of health and social care because “it is urgent for personal care, it is urgent for safe care, and it is urgent for research”.

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