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NHS IT? I wouldn’t start from here!

By Roy Lilley

For as long as I can remember, and I do go back a long way in NHS terms, the health service has struggled with IT, managing its information, data and computing.

It reminds me of an old joke.

A driver stopped a pedestrian and asked; 'How do I get to London.'
The pedestrian, paused and thought and replied; 'I wouldn't start from here.'

How do we get the NHS to manage its information by the use of technology.  Answer; 'I wouldn't start from here.'

But, we are where we are.  Successive administrations have tried to overlay technologies.  Public sector procurement procedures have slowed the process and almost always, the slender gains the NHS has achieved have been clunky attempts to import inappropriate solutions and shoe-horn them into our architecture.

Top-down, expensive, you name it the NHS has done it.  Done it mostly wrong.  Always with good intentions, always with clunky outcomes.

The last big central push came through the much the maligned Connecting for Health initiative.  An engineering challenge of Brunel proportions; lifting up a functioning and working service, laying the infrastructure of email and connectivity and putting it back... whilst the NHS kept about its day to day business.

Since then successive governments have lost their appetite for procurement and investment.  Whilst the world around us came to understand Big-Data and the benefits of being able to answer the simple question, 'how did we do today', the NHS remained stranded in a paper jungle.

UK e-Health Week with its cornucopia of ideas, products and services may, at last gives us cause for optimism.

I was at London's Olympia exhibition centre for the two days of e-Health Week and I detected a new confidence.  A sense of enthusiasm and anticipation.

Curiously this new spirit is borne of austerity.  The NHS, faced with gargantuan savings targets, understands it cannot hope to achieve its targets without innovation and changing how it goes about its business.

At the heart of this modernisation will be a new reliance on the analysis of data and a dependence on the types of technologies on display at e-Health Week.

A critical, additional factor is the change in technologies; away from the central servers and big machines, the landscape is now in the 'cloud', with devices hand held, at the bedside.  Interoperability is the new Holy Grail and information governance the final hurdle.

A busy exhibition with a packed programme of top line speakers left me with a new enthusiasm.  A renewed sense of optimism that perhaps, this time we can move away from vendors making sales to trailblazers making partnerships with customers.

A new begging and an answer to the old question; how do we get the NHS to manage its information better, be more nimble and more bangs for its bucks?

Answer, start at e-Health Week, Olympia!