NHS planning major telehealth rollout

Sensors and cameras linked to the NHS 'Spine' could soon be installed in patients' homes, reveals Richard Granger, head of the organisation's National Programme for IT

The NHS is planning to institute so-called telehealth systems in homes around the country.

Richard Granger, NHS director general of IT, said on Wednesday that this extension of health technology into the home — probably based at first on proprietary systems — would "free things up in terms of time and place" within the NHS.

Speaking to industry figures at a symposium on IT and healthcare in London, Granger also confirmed that "things going into people's homes is new scope", requiring additional budgeting beyond the original remit of the NHS's National Programme for IT.

The National Programme for IT is already expected to cost tens of billions of pounds, although precise estimates vary.

Testing the telehealth systems for interoperability with the new national database of patient care records, called the "Spine", would also be expensive, Granger added.

The telehealth devices would probably be targeted at elderly and infirm people. It's not clear, though, exactly what the systems would consist of, although it's likely they would include sensors and possibly cameras. Patients might be able to take their own blood pressure and upload the results to the NHS systems, for example.

Granger said that the existing security levels in place in hospitals today are on a par with those of the best banks, leading to some uncertainty over the security levels that will be supported by telehealth systems.

"Are we going to do that with hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers and voluntary workers who work in people's homes? Maybe, maybe not," Granger told the symposium.

Granger also suggested that the NHS was working with Microsoft to develop standards and user interfaces for telehealth systems.