UK minister: NHS must take tech risks

Even though there is a recession, National Health System practices should embrace technology to make efficiencies, according to a junior minister at the U.K Department of Health.
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Cutbacks in technology spending are the wrong remedy for the NHS (National Health System) in an economic downturn, according a junior minister at the U.K. Department of Health.

Instead, the NHS should embrace the efficiencies IT can bring, Professor Lord Darzi, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the department, told an audience at the NHS Healthcare Innovation Expo in London on Thursday.

"At a time of recession, don't cut back on technology, don't retreat to the command and control section--that is not the frame of mind we need to adopt," said Darzi. "Innovation is better for patients, and stimulates staff."

Darzi said that while high-tech could appear costly, NHS managers, commissioners and procurement bodies should look at technology, both high and low tech, in terms of the effect it can have on a business model. If the technology can disrupt inefficient business models, it should be adopted, according to the parliamentarian.

"Technology is more cost-saving than not," said Darzi.

However, cultural change is necessary for innovative technology and practices to take hold, said the minister. "There are issues of leadership--not just clinical, but management issues," said Darzi. "Management needs to be more sympathetic to risk takers who want to have more innovation in their practices."

Ken Lunn, NHS Connecting for Health's (CfH) director of data standards and products, said earlier in June that the organization is agnostic toward open source software, and that CfH is helping develop such software for medical terminology editing and for messaging of details of medical consultations.

In response to a question from ZDNet UK, Darzi admitted that both the NHS and suppliers needed to speed the implementation of the National Project for IT (NPfIT). The £12.7 billion (US$20.7 billion) NHS IT modernization scheme has seen technical difficulties and parts of it are years behind schedule.

"NPfIT is one of the most important innovations, this is probably the largest procurement in Europe," Darzi told ZDNet UK. "There have been delays, but we are committed. I am committed to it."

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