Is a paperless NHS a less secure NHS?

The idea of the NHS going ‘paperless’ has been floating around for as long as I’ve been writing healthcare blogs, and a lot longer besides. Indeed, writing about it all over again has me feeling all ‘deja-vu’.

In case you haven’t been following it, a paperless NHS is exactly what it says on the tin; everyone’s records centralised and accessible at the touch of a button. On paper, no pun intended, it’s a great idea. 1’s and 0’s can’t be misplaced, shuffled around into the wrong order or left on a bus. On top of that, ‘never events’ (instances of gross malpractice), as well as less major mistakes, would be much less prevalent, as it is much harder for the wrong information to be given to key people along the chain of care. Even in terms of money saving, a paperless NHS would make a considerable difference – Frontera is an office of around 20, and the money we spend on paper and ink is… well. We need to get our roof replaced a lot. Because the cost is through it.

So why has the idea taken quite so long to come to real fruition?

What it comes down to, I think, is fear of technology. Easy as it is to brush that off as something that people who don’t understand technology are always worried about, there is a case for it in some ways. Data is only as secure as the person least careful with a password, when it all comes down to it. The most robust security measures in the world can’t combat someone writing down their password, losing it, and not caring enough to report it as missing. Add to that all the recent cases of government officials losing laptops on trains, and you have a public that is rightly reticent about their medical records being ‘in the cloud’. A paperless NHS is a great idea, but the government is reviving the idea slap bang in the middle of the wrong time. Labour put the ‘NHS Database’ plan into action years ago, and the coalition scrapped it in 2011. Growing lack of faith in the coalition will now only be compounded by their weak revival of a plan they made such a noise, not to mention a multi-billion pound taxpayer loss, about scrapping not two years ago. Add to that the fact that nobody has forgotten about our Health Minister’s last job, that of Rupert Murdoch’s ‘Man in Havana’, and you have a 15-minute recipe for low approval ratings.

Money-saving and efficiency for the NHS is, arguably, the most important issue in UK politics at the moment. Going paperless is the right way to go, with predicted savings of £4.4bn year, but the public need to trust it. We work at the cutting edge of technology every day, but right now, I’m not even sure I trust it.

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