Tony Blair has pledged £6bn of public money to deliver high-speed internet access to every school and doctor’s surgery by 2006, as part of a ’21st century revolution’ in the delivery of public services.
Speaking at a government conference to discuss its delivery of e-commerce and e-government initiatives, the Prime Minister said £1bn of investment from existing funds will be used to extend broadband access across public services. This will include broadband access for every doctor’s surgery and hospital in the country by 2006.
He promised that broadband access would be delivered as part of a new strategy "to drive up access in key categories across the NHS, education, transport, benefits, tax and criminal justice".
"My message is blunt and simple: we are doing well, but not well enough," said Mr Blair, who added Britain has the potential to match the 19th Century industrial revolution with ‘a 21st Century information revolution’.
But he stressed that the full potential of this information revolution had yet to be fully grasped. "Too many services live in the technological ‘dark ages’: too few teachers with their own e-mail, an NHS without a single electronic network…"
Mr Blair added: "Public services need to see it as crucial to implementing public service reform. Government and people should make it the basis of forming relations between citizen and state. For all of that to happen, access needs to be universal not partial."
He stressed there was a pressing need to take on the techno-sceptics, but to recognise that technology alone was no panacea: "Putting a PC on a desk does not itself boost efficiency. Establishing a broadband connection will not, alone, solve the productivity paradox," said Mr Blair.
"As economic research has shown, it is only when investment is combined with the right skills, with imaginative organisational change and rigorous managerial delivery that productivity gains come through."
The Prime Minister promised to wire up every doctor’s surgery, hospital and courtroom over the next four years, together with other public sector organisations such as the police and the pensions department.
In the NHS Mr Blair said the government would be investing to create a national integrated care records service, an electronic prescriptions service, an electronic appointment booking service.
The Prime Minister illustrated specific benefits ICT was already delivering in the NHS: "In a Stockport GP practice, the electronic transfer of pathology messages has reduced the average time taken between requesting tests and receiving results from twelve working days to three, with the results automatically incorporated into patient records."
In an X-ray clinic in Northampton the introduction of electronic appointment booking has reduced missed appointments from around 9% to zero, saving staff time and reducing waiting times for other patients."
In the broadband-enabled NHS of the near future he said that cumbersome paper systems would be replaced: "It will be possible for a GP to email a prescription directly to a pharmacist who in turn will email the patient to let them know its ready to pick up. And we could eliminate up to 600 million pieces of paper a year and make a GP’s handwriting legible for the first time in history!"
The introduction of integrated care records, meanwhile, will make it possible for an ambulance crew arriving at the scene of an accident to check a patients electronic health record through a handheld mobile device.
Other broadband-enabled services promised include enabling drivers to conduct all their dealing with government online, including tax discs, vehicle registrations and driving licence applications.
In criminal justice Mr Blair said police and witnesses in criminal trials would be called by text message when it was time to give evidence.
Mr Blair concluded: "This is the transforming technology of our age. Its potential is still hugely under-exploited. Its capability to transform our businesses, public services and societies immense. It is the key long term economic and social challenge."