Reducing the amount of paperwork done by midwives and introducing barcode technology in care homes were among the goals set out in the government’s new NHS Information Strategy.
The government said midwives’ time would be “freed up to allow them to focus on caring for mothers-to-be” through the use of the latest technology.
The Department of Health highlighted an initiative in Portsmouth where midwives use low cost digital pens to write up case notes. The information is then automatically uploaded onto the patient’s electronic record and has halved their paper work, according to the DH.
In addition, the government said its “ambition” was for all care homes to use barcode medication in the future to help cut prescribing errors, as is already done by many hospitals.
The long awaited NHS Information Strategy reiterated the government’s commitment to give patients online access to their GP records by 2015. It also set out plans to allow patients to make GP appointments online, which was widely reported by the national press.
The strategy – titled “The Power of Information: putting all of us in control of the health and care information we need” – aims to set “a 10-year framework for transforming information for health and care”.
Local organisations will be told to appoint lead clinicians with responsibility for information. There will be a series of further changes aimed at improving use of information, which local organisations and clinicians will be “encouraged” to take up.
Announcing the strategy, Andrew Lansley set out how patients will be able to book GP appointments online, “helping to end the ‘8am rush’ for booking GP appointments on the phone”.
He said repeat prescriptions and test results would also be available online; and that “it will be possible to contact GP surgeries by email, ending the hassle of calling switchboards and trying to find the right person to speak to”.
The statement added: “By 2015 all patients registered with a GP in England will be able to see their medical records online.”
However, it is unclear how this aim will be achieved. The statement said: “The momentum for these changes will be locally-led and include working closely with the voluntary sector to support the needs of those who might not be able to use the web, or have a smartphone or a computer. This government doesn’t tell nurses and doctors what IT they need to improve care.”
Mr Lansley also announced a new portal to “bring together health and care information from across the internet so that people can access trusted information”.
Jeanne Tarrant, the Royal College of Midwives’ team manager and lead on IT issues, said: “We welcome the launch of the new strategy and that the department has supported a number of NHS trailblazers with improved adoption of new technologies in maternity services.
“This includes successful initiatives, such as Portsmouth midwives, RCM award finalists, who use low-cost Blackberry digital pens, which cut administration and improve communication.”
She added: “Midwives already share information directly with women, who carry their own notes, in their care. This new information strategy will bring the sharing of information with women into the digital age.
“This strategy supports a collaborative way of working with mothers and stakeholders. We look forward to working to improve the strategy with the department and stakeholders.”
Meanwhile, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary, Peter Carter said: “The aspiration to use IT to create a more joined up, safer approach to care is entirely welcome and will do much to serve the overall goal around increased integration between health and social care.
“In order for this strategy to be successfully implemented, it is vital the NHS has the buy in of its staff and that they are fully included in the process. The RCN is keen to see nurses playing an active role in the commissioning of new clinical systems and new technology around telehealth for example.
“All systems must communicate and work well together and information should be able to flow in a secure, but understandable way. The introduction of a system that is in anyway bureaucratic or cumbersome will not improve patient care and could end up costing the NHS money it can ill afford to spend,” he warned.