Hancock: NHS is world’s biggest opportunity for saving lives through technology

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The NHS represents “the world’s biggest opportunity” for saving lives through technology, the Health Secretary has said.

Matt Hancock said drugs are not always the best option for patients and advances including wearable devices could help professionals move towards social prescribing instead.

Addressing the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester, he also vowed to transform “clunky” IT systems within the health service, describing it as “the world’s most frustrating place to work”.

Mr Hancock, who was appointed to the role in July, said he had an “unsurpassable enthusiasm” for technology and criticised existing systems across the health service that “don’t talk to each other”.

“The NHS is at the same moment the world’s biggest opportunity for saving lives through modern technology and the world’s most frustrating place to work for its IT,” he said in his keynote address.

“The net result is not just scarce resources wasted but countless hours of clinical staff spent trying to work broken systems, patients being given suboptimal care because systems didn’t communicate and ultimately lives lost.

“Now is the moment to draw a line and put the failures of the past behind us and set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology, to improve our health, to make our lives easier, and to make the money go further.”

He told reporters technology “can help provide both the evidence base for social prescribing and can link up opportunities for social prescribing” to improve the health of patients.

Apps and wearable technology could be used to help encourage people to get involved with their communities and be more active, he added.

“I think that there is a growing evidence base that social prescribing can be better for patients than medicine,” he said.

“Now of course, there is always going to be medicines prescribed and rightly so, but I want to see the balance shifted in favour of social prescribing.”

Mr Hancock said he “can’t wait” to see technology spread across the NHS, but described it as a continuous effort.

“There is no end to this project because the technology keeps improving,” he said.

Mr Hancock also announced a trial of the new NHS app in five areas in England from next month.

Patients in Liverpool, Hastings, Bristol, Staffordshire and South Worcestershire will be able to download and use the app ahead of a national roll-out in December.

More than £200 million will also be invested to transform a group of NHS trusts into centres for technological and digital innovation.

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