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NHS £4 billion digitisation fund: Industry reaction

The government is handing the NHS a £4 billion fund as part of a digital transformation strategy with the aim of creating a paperless service.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made the announcement over the weekend, with the money being spent on areas such as moving to electronic records and online appointments to improve patient services and speed up diagnoses.

"We know that proper investment in IT - it's not without its pitfalls - can save time for doctors and nurses and means they can spend more time with patients," Hunt said. "The NHS has the opportunity to become a world leader in introducing new technology - which means better patient outcomes and a revolution in healthcare at home."

At the end of 2015 Hunt made the promise that free w-fi would be provided in all NHS buildings in England to aid the government's goal for at least 10 per cent of patients to be using computers, tablets or smartphones to be access GP services by March 2017. Furthermore, it is hoped that 25 per cent of patients with long-term illnesses such as diabetes and cancer will be able to monitor their health remotely.

Industry Reaction

John Smith, principal solution architect at Veracode:

“These proposals for a more connected, app-enabled NHS will certainly offer patients and health professionals more efficient digital services which are long overdue.

"But whilst patients will benefit from mobile access to records, data and online bookings, the sharp rise in healthcare apps could cause headaches for the government. That’s why it’s vital that all applications which access confidential data are fully tested and protected from vulnerabilities which could be an easy target for cyber criminals wishing to damage the NHS or profit from the wealth of sensitive data it holds.

"Veracode’s research has shown that the healthcare industry has a poor track record in terms of creating secure code – with 69 per cent of apps tested failing to meet basic security standards, and only 43 per cent of identified flaws being fixed. Healthcare apps were also found to have a particularly high prevalence of Cryptographic Flaws which is rather worrying given that Encryption is one of the key technologies needed to protect sensitive data.”

Gordon Morrison, Director of Government Relations at Intel Security:

“This investment sends a clear signal that the government is serious about transforming the NHS and making it fit for the digital age. However, the journey towards digitised records and services brings with it challenges around cyber security, privacy and protection of patient data.

"That’s why it’s vital that the digital NHS plan is underpinned with a dedicated cyber strategy that can enable secure transformation that protects data from outsider threats. This approach will mean doctors, nurses and patients can enjoy world class digital health services and operate with genuine confidence in the increasingly connected online world."

Angelo Di Ventura, Director, Trustmarque:

"The NHS is under constant pressure to reduce costs while at the same time ensuring clinical excellence. There is no doubt that technology can play a significant role in meeting these objectives, but new technology innovations are placing existing NHS infrastructure under pressure, both in terms of IT systems and people.

"At the same time NHS-wide initiatives, such as the drive towards the ‘paperless’ NHS, are further adding to the load. However, it is clear that UK adults want greater access to digital healthcare services and in the long run this promises to increase efficiencies and improve patient care."

Richard Parris, CEO of Intercede:

"News that the NHS is to receive £4bn funding to bring it into the digital age should be welcomed by NHS staff and patients. However it will expose the organisation to much greater risk of patient data being compromised if the changes fail to take account of growing cyber security threats.

"The vast majority of the networks accessed in the public and commercial sector rely on simple password-based verification and it’s at that verification stage that more than half of all security breaches happen. The UK actually leads the world in digital verification technology and it’s important that we use that expertise within this project to ensure the people (and machines) accessing the NHS data network are who (or what) they say they are.

"If we rely on outdated and inherently insecure password verification it’s only a matter of time before critical data is compromised and patients suffer."

Image source: Shutterstock/Carlos Amarillo