All NHS buildings will provide free wi-fi to improve clinical outcomes and patient experience, Jeremy Hunt has pledged.
The health secretary’s commitment follows Baroness Martha Lane-Fox making the provision of free wi-fi across the NHS estate a key recommendation in her report on the NHS and digital innovations published earlier this month.
A Department of Health statement said it would be funded from the £1bn of new investment allocated for NHS technology projects in the comprehensive spending review.
Mr Hunt said: “Everyone using the NHS expects it to be a world leader in digital healthcare and free wi-fi is an essential part of making that a reality. It will give patients and staff the ability to access the services they need as well as freeing up clinical time and reducing overall costs.”
“[Free wi-fi] will give patients and staff the ability to access the services they need as well as freeing up clinical time and reducing overall costs”
A DH statement said: “The move will allow patients staying in hospital to download apps and learn more about their condition, stay in contact with family and friends, as well as keeping in contact with social networks that can support their recovery.
“It will also reduce the administrative burden on doctors and nurses, freeing up more time to spend with patients. Safer working practices such as e-prescribing will take place, which is known to reduce medication errors by 50 per cent.”
The DH does not have data on how many NHS organisations already provide free wi-fi and no deadline has been set for when the target should be met. It added the pledge was “the latest step” towards a paperless NHS by 2020.
Hunt confirms there will be consultation on bursary plans
At present some hospitals charge for wi-fi while others have no access at all. Some trusts are however providing free wi-fi, with the DH citing Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust and Oxford University Hospitals Foundation as examples.
Turning the NHS estate into a free wi-fi zone was already an NHS England ambition, with outgoing director of patients and information Tim Kelsey championing the policy during his tenure.
He suggested earlier this month that NHS organisations should only get a share of the £1bn set aside for NHS technology projects in last month’s spending review if they committed to providing free wi-fi.
He said: “What I would predict is that a significant amount of [the £1bn of additional capital investment] will be devolved to local health economies in order that they can begin to supportdevelopment of the digital roadmaps, on which a core standard requirement/opportunity is [providing] free wi-fi [across their estates].”