The UK’s NHS Going Digital Would Be Equivalent to Hiring Thousands of New Doctors

    The UK’s NHS Going Digital Would Be Equivalent to Hiring Thousands of New Doctors

    The NHS app could not only allow appointments to be made, but also let patients receive notifications about vaccine campaigns, health tests, cancer screening, and even upcoming clinical trials. “Clinical trials can use genomics to identify patients who will benefit from the latest treatments, but they struggle to recruit—not for a lack of people willing to take part, but because they can’t access basic data,” he said. He promised that Labour would clamp down on bureaucracy and allow clinical trials to recruit volunteers via the app. “During the pandemic, half a million people signed up to the vaccine trials registry,” he says. “If we can do it to defeat Covid, we can do it to cure cancer.”

    At the core of Labour’s plan is patient data. Recently, the NHS has announced the launch of a federated data platform that would centralize hospital data, but would not include general practice or social care data. “The NHS has struck gold here, yet it’s leaving it in the ground,” Streeting says. “General practice data is key to unlocking better population health outcomes.”

    Streeting promises that a Labour government would ensure a transparent process about what aspects of patient data would be shared and with whom, as well as the necessary safeguards to ensure patient confidentiality. As for those who oppose it on the grounds of privacy concerns, he has a simple message: “It’s a fight that a Labour government is willing to have,” he says. “While the tinfoil hat brigade takes to TikTok to urge followers to opt out of sharing their data with the NHS—the irony isn’t lost on me—the government refuses to take on their fear mongering.”

    He recalled when, last January, he met the parents of a 2-year-old boy at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. “They have been through hell,” he says. “In his short life, he has already had five operations on his heart.” When he asked them what their main frustration had been, however, the answer surprised him: technology. “Their local GP couldn’t access the notes from Alder Hey and the hospital couldn’t read the records held by their GP. It meant that on every appointment they had to repeat themselves again and again. The health service should be lessening their worry, not adding to their stress.”

    This article appears in the July/August 2024 issue of WIRED UK magazine.

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