Gordon Brown has outlined plans to encourage much greater use of information, online services and text messaging in the NHS as part of a public sector information revolution that he claims will save £3 billion a year.
The Prime Minister told the Smarter Government conference today that the UK was entering the “third generation of public services”, in which there would be a radial shift of power to public sector users.
His plans, outlined in a paper ‘Putting the frontline first: smarter government’, include releasing more than 1,000 datasets to the public, making the vast majority of government transactional services online only, and encouraging public services to use electronic communications.
Brown said that evidence from local authorities had shown that switching a telephone transaction online could save £3.30 and switching a paper and mail transaction online £12.
He added: “Using text messages to remind people of GP appointments can help save on the £600m annual cost to the NHS of missed appointments – that is the equivalent of 24 new secondary schools, or over 13,000 nurses.”
The government claims the prevention of just 20 missed appointments could cover the costs of setting up such systems.
The new paper is in line with thinking within the Cabinet Office, which developed a Power of Information Programme under former minister for digital engagement Tom Watson.
This included relatively radical ideas, such as releasing government data sets to the public to “mash up” into new information sources.
Brown argued that the release of public data – including the data underpinning NHS Choices – would promote transparent and effective government and social innovation.
Putting the Frontline First also outlines plans to extend the user comment functionality on NHS Choices to cover all services by 2010 and to “join up and transform” NHS Choice, Directgov and Business Link.
However, the new report also comes against the backdrop of gloomy predictions for public sector spending in this week’s Pre-Budget Report.
Chancellor Alastair Darling is expected to demand cuts of up to 20% on Wednesday, with only certain high profile services, such as cancer care, protected.
Putting the Frontline First outlines plans to merge or abolish 120 arms length bodies and move 10% of public sector staff out of London and the South East.
Brown also said that the senior civil service pay bill would be cut by 20% over the next three years and that Whitehall spending on consultancy would be halved, spending on marketing reduced by a quarter, and IT project spend reduced by a tenth.
Putting the Frontline first says the government will set out plans to encourage greater use of text messaging for GP appointments and other health services by March 2010.
It also promises to support primary care trusts to use predictive risk modelling to focus spending on target groups. Other departments that might benefit from predictive risk modelling will be identified in time for the next budget.
The Prime Minister used his speech to repeat a number of NHS pledges, including access to: “a cancer specialist within two weeks; to treatment within 18 weeks; regular check ups for everyone aged 40-74; and GP surgeries open in the evening and at weekends.”
He added: “We are bringing forward radical plans for treating patients remotely at home; providing more convenience and comfort but also a cheaper alternative to a hospital or surgery visit – all without compromising standards of care.”