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Spring Budget provides £3.4 billion for NHS reform


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has made £3.4 billion available for the reform of England’s NHS, emphasising the importance of investing in new IT.

The move has been announced as part of the Government’s Spring Budget 2024 and the Public Sector Productivity Programme.

The Budget document says the extra money for the NHS takes the total to the current Spending Review period to £164.9 billion, and that this will mean the health service can commit to an average productivity growth of 1.9% up to 2029-30.

It indicates there will be an investment in upgrading IT systems and scaling up the use of AI to reduce the time spent on non-clinical work. This comes with references to a series of pilots using AI to automate back office functions, and the provision of over 100 MRI scanners with an AI capability.

HM Treasury’s announcement said this is aimed at reducing the 13 million hours lost by doctors every year because of old IT and at speeding up the delivery test results for patients.

The document also cites a number of initiatives that are already underway, including an acceleration of work on the Federated Data Platform, the further development of the NHS App, the provision of digital passports to all staff, and ensuring that all trusts have electronic patient records.

Not cheap to change

In his speech in presenting the Budget, Hunt said: “Making changes on the scale we need is not cheap. The investment needed to modernise NHS IT systems so they are as good as the best in the world costs £3.4 billion.

“But it helps unlock £35 billon of savings, 10 times that amount.”

Commenting on the new investment, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Adopting the latest technology is already having an impact on the way we deliver services for patients – including getting your prescriptions on the NHS App and virtual wards which let people recover at home.

“The significant £3.4 billion investment in capital to fund new technology means the NHS can now commit to deliver 2% annual productivity growth in the final two years of the next Parliament, which will unlock tens of billions of savings.”

The NHS Confederation welcomed the IT spend but warned it will not be sufficient to solve the health service’s problems.

Its chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “The £3.4 billon additional investment in technology over the next Parliament has the potential to improve patient care and staff productivity as it will help to replace outdated IT systems that keep those on the frontline from spending more time with patients. Meanwhile, extending electronic patient records to all hospitals will help to support joined up care across services.

“However, bigger productivity gains will only be realised if the NHS’s crumbling estates are addressed too. This is why we have called for a £6.4 billion annual capital funding increase for the NHS. Some of this may be covered by the Government's NHS productivity plan, but new computers sat in outdated estates is far from ideal and much more funding will be required.”

Invest in professionals

BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT, also provided a welcome but with reservations.

Its chief executive, Rashik Parma, commented: “This level of investment in technology across the NHS and the police is vital to improve the quality and speed of the medical service and criminal investigation.

“But funding for AI must include investment in digital professionals - people - who will work with it and lead it at all levels. They need not just high degrees of competence, but an understanding of ethical principles, which are key when using automated technology that affects our lives, like processing patient data, or responding to emergency enquires.”

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