Digitalising the UK NHS would equate to hiring thousands of new doctors

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The NHS app could not only allow appointments to be made, but also allow patients to receive notifications about vaccine campaigns, health tests, cancer screenings and even upcoming clinical trials. “Clinical trials can use genomics to identify patients who would benefit from the latest treatments, but have difficulty recruiting them – not because of a lack of people willing to take part, but because they can’t access basic data,” he said. He promised that Labour would rein in bureaucracy and allow clinical trials to recruit volunteers via the app. “During the pandemic, half a million people signed up to the vaccine trial registry,” he says. “If we can do this to beat Covid, we can do this to cure cancer.”

Patient data is at the core of Labour’s plan. Recently, the NHS announced plans to launch a federal data platform that will centralise hospital data, but will not include general practice or social care data. “The NHS has struck gold here, yet it is leaving it in the ground,” says Streeting. “General practice data is the key to unlocking better population health outcomes.”

Streeting promises that the Labour government will ensure a transparent process around which aspects of patient data will be shared with whom, as well as putting the necessary safeguards in place to ensure patient confidentiality. He has a simple message for those who oppose it on the basis of privacy concerns: “This is a battle the Labour government is prepared to fight,” he says. “While the tinfoil hat brigade take to TikTok to urge their followers not to share their data with the NHS – ironic, I get it – the government refuses to spread their fears.”

He recalls last January, when he met the parents of a 2-year-old boy at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. “They’ve been through hell,” he says. “In his short life, he’s had five heart surgeries.” When he asked them what their main frustration was, the answer surprised him: technology. “Their local GP couldn’t access the notes from Alder Hey and the hospital couldn’t read the records their GP had. This meant they had to repeat themselves over and over again at every visit. The health service should ease their anxiety, not add to their stress.”

This article is published in the July/August 2024 issue Wired UK Magazine.

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