The NHS recently launched an app. In theory it should allow me to book a GP appointment, check symptoms, order repeat prescriptions or register to be an organ donor—all from my smartphone.
It seems my life is increasingly governed by my phone, from ordering shopping, paying the electricity bill or booking my daughters’ afterschool clubs—so why shouldn’t my interactions with the NHS be made smoother?
Yet minutes after following the cumbersome registration process (online banking was never this much of a faff and I registered for that over 10 years ago…) I was emailed a message: “the information, photo or video you sent us did not pass our checks. Please try again.” Computer says no! Entry denied! Looks like I’ll be back on the phone at 8am on Monday morning, waiting “on hold” for what seems like a lifetime in order to book my appointment.
I’ve spent time on the frontline with GPs. General practice really is the jewel in the crown of our NHS, seeing a million patients a day. Family doctors respond not just to growing patient demand but lost hours of valuable time due to sluggish software, slow Wi-Fi and PCs crashing. The Royal College of GPs estimates that 80 per cent of practices are using outdated IT systems.
During his time as health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised a “paperless NHS”—yet reams of paper are still used every day. Revelations that the NHS still relies on 11,000 fax machines costing £137,000 in maintenance shock tabloid headline writers. But it is perhaps understandable when clinicians can’t rely on Wi-Fi and email systems for the quick communication of a patient’s vital medical information or test result.
Matt Hancock, the current health secretary, announces sweeping gimmicks—“all fax machines will be banned.” Any early enthusiasm he may have garnered among staff soon turned sour as he endorsed a venture capital-backed private health care app—Babylon’s “GP at Hand”—a model which erodes the long-established system of local GP practices providing comprehensive care to an entire community.
Meanwhile the “NHS Long Term Plan” published earlier this year promises a universal right to online consultation by 2024. The question isn’t whether more Skype consultations should be provided per se but rather how might video technology improve access for…