United Kingdom

‘Digital NHS risks writing off needs of older patients, campaigners warn

Health Secretary Sajid Javid will today announce changes making the NHS app a front door to the service. By next March, patients can manage hospital appointments online, get GP messages and book Covid jabs.

Meanwhile, “virtual wards”, where patients are monitored remotely at home, will free up hospital beds.

The Government has earmarked £2billion to help digitise the NHS and social care sector, including expanding smartphone technology.

Ministers say it will save taxpayers billions over the next 10 years. But Dennis Reed, of over-60s group Silver Voices, warned millions of older people could be shut out of vital services.

He said: “The whole of life appears to be being organised through apps and if you don’t have an app for a
service, you are being excluded
from society.

“That’s particularly worrying with the NHS, because older people, unfortunately more than anybody else, need ready and easy access.

“What arrangements are being made to ensure millions are not being excluded from the health system?”

Mr Reed said many older people cannot afford or use smartphones, sometimes due to poor eyesight or arthritis in their hands.

He said there was growing frustration at problems including being ­unable to park in a shopping centre or surgery that uses a payment app.

Mr Reed warned: “All of society seems to be driven by eliminating human contact and organising everything through apps, but that is not the best way to organise a human-centred service like the NHS.”

The Government’s Plan for Digital Health and Social Care sets out to give patients quicker and fingertip access to more personalised care.

New features will be added to the NHS app to notify and remind people of appointments and bookings.

They will be able to see new information on their GP record and ask for access to historic data by contacting their practice.

Remote monitoring in people’s homes will also be expanded to free both hospital beds and medics’ time.

Last year, more than 280,000 were using technology to monitor long-term conditions at home. A further 500,000 could benefit by next March.

Ministers also plan to grow the ­specialist data and tech workforce with 10,500 more roles for graduates, apprentices and others. Mr Javid said: “We are embarking on a radical ­programme of modernisation that will make sure the NHS is set up to meet the challenges of 2048 – not 1948, when it was first established.

“This plan builds on our Data Strategy to revolutionise digital health and care, which will enable patients to manage hospital appointments from the NHS App and take more control of their own care at home, picking up problems sooner and seeking help earlier.”

He added: “Ensuring more personalisation and better join-up of the ­system will benefit patients, free up clinician time and help us to bust the Covid backlogs.”

More than 28 million people ­currently use the NHS app and Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK charity, said some would benefit from ­digitisation. But she added: “That’s not how it feels for everyone, particularly the millions of older people who are not online.

“We hear from many older people in this position who are understandably dismayed at the trend towards ‘digital first’, within the NHS and beyond it too.

“Surely we should be using technology to expand people’s choices, not narrow them.”

Dr Malte Gerhold, of the Health Foundation charity, said better use of technology could improve both ­quality of care and use of resources.

But he warned: “While most patients had a positive experience of the increased use of technology ­during the pandemic, for some groups, including those with a carer, it was less positive.

“Addressing these issues will be important to ensure those who face particular barriers get the benefits from increased use of technology.” Dr Timothy Ferris, national transformation director at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said “harnessing the power of digital and data” would improve access to care.

He said: “Today’s plan sets out an ambitious vision for a future where the NHS puts more power and information at patients’ fingertips and staff have the tools they need to deliver better and more joined-up services.”

What can you do with the app?

By March 2023, NHS App users will be able to:

  • Book Covid vaccines, as well as through the NHS website.
  • Receive notifications, including reminders for Covid jab booking and prescription readiness.
  • Start seeing notifications and messaging from their GP.
  • Manage hospital elective care appointments across trusts.
  • See new information on their GP record and request data at their practice.
  • Set and manage contact details and register with a GP practice.

Other key measures include:

  • Expanded tech for remote home monitoring and virtual wards.
  • Seamless sharing of records between teams and, by September 2024, the ability to complete hospital pre-assessment checks from home.

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