TechUK says a "step-up" in activity is needed if the NHS is to meet health secretary Jeremy Hunt's target of becoming paperless by 2018.
A new report, ‘Digitising the NHS by 2018 – One Year On’, says the ambitions outlined by Hunt remain achievable, but that success requires a concerted step-up in activity from now on.
Milestones achieved in the past year include the launch and approval of NHS IT projects as part of the Safer Hospitals Safer Wards: Technology Fund and the launch by EHI and NHS England of the Clinical Digital Maturity Index, which looks at the clinical IT systems in use at every NHS trust in England.
"The first year has seen significant activity in terms of planning; allocating funding, assessing capabilities of IT solutions, and raising awareness and educating audiences on the digital health agenda. There has also been some progress in refreshing the infrastructure that underpins a paperless NHS," the report says.
"Ultimately, it has been a period where Government has laid the foundations for the delivery of the digital health agenda, rather than materially moved it forward in terms of ‘frontline’ health and social care services."
It says that while many NHS providers and suppliers have embraced the challenge, there has not been universal uptake.
Meanwhile, timescales for some individual projects have slipped or deliverables have been scaled back, such as the ambition to have patient records accessible online by March 2015 being amended to just include information in the Summary Care Record. The report compares this with work done in Scotland and Wales where it says there has been "substantial progress in making shared information available across the health landscape.
TechUK, previously Intellect, highlights six key recommendations that must be addressed in order to ensure the digital health agenda becomes a reality. These include improving the way health and social care professionals and patients are engaged on the design of digital products and services.
Also, maintaining investment of public and private funding towards the goal of a paperless NHS, providing advice on how to deliver the digital health agenda and raising awareness of the benefits that technology projects deliver.
EHI reported last week that NHS England is working with McKinsey on an economic case for continued investment in IT. The second round of the SHSW Technology Fund is also expected to be announced at the end of this month.
While the first round of the fund has been approved by Treasury, the government is yet to release a comprehensive list detailing the successful projects. The report says there needs to be transparency on funding allocations, as this will enable the NHS to understand the breadth of projects and initiatives that will be implemented and what these will achieve.
The report says the NHS should prioritise improving integrated digitisation across care organisations, particularly the boundaries between the NHS and non-NHS partners, and move towards a more mixed digital system economy. It says the supplier community needs to demonstrate more willingness to interoperate and share data between systems and the NHS also needs to support interoperability between suppliers, of all sizes.
Lastly, it recommends the NHS learn from other industries that have embraced the digital agenda, such as retail and logistics industries.
Natalie Bateman, head of health and social care at techUK said: "good progress has been made in regards to planning and allocating the necessary funding for a digital health service; however more is needed in the coming year. Whilst it is clear that some NHS providers are well underway in terms of implementing the paperless agenda, the majority are only just starting out on their digital health journey.
“Everyone involved in delivering the agenda needs to work together to ensure there is a step-up in activity that will create a safer and more efficient health and social care service. This needs to be based on digital platforms that will transform the health and social care system, rather than simply automating tasks."