As the UK’s National Health Service strains under the burden of the winter crisis, a new study has revealed that more than 13.5 million working hours are lost yearly in England’s health service alone due to inadequate IT systems and equipment.
The research [PDF] by the British Medical Association – the doctors’ union with rights to negotiate with the government over health service pay and conditions – just 11 percent of UK doctors reported they “completely” had the necessary equipment to perform their job role.
Almost one in three (30 percent) doctors working in both general practice and hospitals said the software they use was “rarely” or “not at all” adequate and fit for purpose to perform their job role.
The survey of 1,320 members showed nearly 76 percent of doctors ranked “interoperability of systems” as a “significant barrier” to digital transformation.
A lack of interoperability affects the quality, timeliness and safety of care that patients receive. For instance, more than four out of five (82 percent) doctors reported that delays occur “always” or “very often” in accessing data from secondary care.
Meanwhile, 68 percent of doctors were “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that seamless and instant data sharing will be the reality across UK health services in 10 years, and only 5 percent of doctors said they had strong confidence this will be the case.
About two-thirds of doctors said funding was a “significant barrier” to digital transformation in the NHS.
The report comes at a time when the NHS continues to struggle to recover from the Covid crisis, with more than seven million people currently waiting for elective treatment in England and record waiting times for emergency care.
“Underfunding digital transformation will leave health services on the back foot as they continue to respond to increasing demand,” the report said.
The BMA recommended the government upgrades or replaces defective or inadequate IT hardware and software, as well as improves high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi in all healthcare facilities. The health service should also improve interoperability to facilitate data sharing across health care systems, particularly the primary-secondary care interface, and develop robust standards for interoperability by the appropriate UK health service regulatory bodies, it said.
Ageing IT and software has been perennial problems in the NHS, one of the world’s largest healthcare organizations.
In June this year, the government set out its plans to boost tech efficacy in the NHS, based around the NHS App, smartphone-based software which gives patients access to some health records and services.
It also promised £2 billion ($2.43 billion) in funding to support electronic patient records to be in all NHS trusts, and to help over 500,000 people to use digital tools to manage their long-term health conditions in their own homes. It also promised better standards for interoperability and usability when NHS organizations make tech purchasing decisions. ®