Nearly £200 million slashed from NHS England’s technology fund may be reinstated in future as part of a “staged roll-out”, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
Hunt made the claim at London’s e-Health Week conference, where he stated the government’s commitment to funding innovation in health IT despite the drastic cut.
When asked by EHI News to comment on the cuts to the ‘Integrated Digital Care Technology Fund’, Hunt said: “What we’ve actually done with the tech fund is stage the roll-out rather than cut it in absolute terms.”
The second round of the fund was launched in May last year to help fund the development of integrated digital care records and other IT projects, and received more 226 bids from NHS organisations and local authorities.
After months of delays, EHI News revealed last month that just 48 successful applications – only one-fifth of all bidders – will receive £43 million of funding, £20 million of which will be spent in the 2014-15 financial year and £23 million to be spent in 2015-16.
Hunt’s comments suggest that – if the current government remains in power – there could be further funding down the line.
“We’re completely committed – I’m the health secretary who set up the fund,” said Hunt.
“In the context of finding an extra £2 billion for the NHS over the course of the next year, which is a huge amount from every part of the NHS, we have had to make difficult decisions in parts of the system.
“My view is that it is really important to increase the investment in IT because we in terms of long-term efficiency, long-term sustainability, really investing in IT – there is nothing more important.”
Speaking at the conference the previous day, Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s director of patients and information, described the cuts to the fund as “disappointing” but said he was happy to receive any funding at all.
Beverley Bryant, NHS England’s director of strategic systems and technology, also made reference to the cuts in an earlier presentation, saying the delay had been “really, really difficult” and apologising for the problems.
“I am very sorry, especially to the organisations that have taken time to fill in forms and come for interviews – it’s been a blow for all of us.”
Hunt spoke about conditions on NHS organisations who want to win money from the £5.3 billion Better Care Fund to support the integration of health and social care.
“As a condition of accessing that money, we have said to everyone that they have to have some really important bits of plumbing that really will join up health and social care systems.
"One of those is having a electronic health record that operates across both systems so all the Better Care Fund areas have those plans in place.”
Hunt highlighted the ability of technology to maximise the value of NHS services, citing the introduction of the MyNHS website last September to collect data on the performance of health and care providers.
“In the past the way that we have tried to get value out of the NHS is by a system of targets. With technology you have a possibility of achieving what you want through transparency of outcomes [and] you remove the need for huge numbers of targets.”