The health and social care secretary has pledged almost half a billion pounds to transform technology in the NHS in an attempt to reduce staff workloads and improve patient care.
In his first speech since being appointed to the post, Matt Hancock listed technology as one of his top three initial priorities and evangelized about how it could help achieve improvements in the other two—workforce and prevention of illness.
About £412m will be made available to transform technology in hospitals, to improve care and give more patients access to health services at home. A further £75m will be available for trusts to replace paper-based systems with electronic systems, which Hancock said could reduce medication errors by up to 50%.
Addressing staff at West Suffolk hospital on July 20, Hancock said: “From today, let this be clear: Tech transformation is coming. The opportunities of new technology, done right across the whole of health and social care, are vast. Let’s work together to seize them.”
He said the challenge of finding or inventing the technology was relatively small compared with the challenge of embedding and embracing it.
The former secretary for digital, culture, media and sport succeeded Jeremy Hunt after the latter was moved to the Foreign Office after six years heading the Department of Health.
Hunt was Britain’s longest-serving health secretary but his tenure was often controversial. Record numbers of people were left waiting at A&E and for surgery, and Hunt was often at loggerheads with NHS staff, presiding over the first all-out junior doctors’ strike in history.
Hancock attempted to mend bridges, telling staff it was “heartbreaking to see how undervalued you often feel” and promising to be their champion. He said he was horrified that 12% of staff felt discriminated against, according to a survey, rising to 24% of BAME staff.
Hancock made a point of deferring to staff’s expertise as he attempts to smooth over the cracks that emerged during his predecessor’s tenure.
Theresa May has pledged to boost NHS funding by around £20bn a year in real terms by 2024, but there have been concerns as to whether it will be enough to fix the problems the service faces.
Hancock said it was important to make the most of the extra cash by keeping people out of hospital, but Labour suggested his priorities were muddled.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health and social care secretary, said: “The 4.3 million patients on waiting lists and the nearly 27,000 patients who waited over 62 days for cancer treatment last year will feel sorely let down that reducing waiting lists and stamping out rationing isn’t the first priority of the new health secretary.