The use of new technology will play an important part in achieving the £22 billion in efficiency savings that NHS services in England need to make in the next five years, according to the NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens.

Stevens, who was speaking at a Cambridge Health Networks event in London, said: “We’ve got a huge transformation ahead of us in healthcare. Not just in this country.

“And no industry has undergone the kind of transformation and productivity gains that we are going to need without being fundamentally technology enabled.

“That’s true right throughout human history, whether it is from hunter gatherers to agriculture to the industrial revolution to the information age. It has to be tech enabled.”

The NHS needs to address a projected gap of £30 billion between annual funding and rising demand and costs by 2020, according to Stevens’ ‘Five Year Forward View’, published last year.

This gap will be partly filled by £8 billion of extra investment, as promised by the Conservative manifesto, leaving a further £22 billion to be made from efficiency efforts.

Tim Kelsey, NHS England’s director for patients and information, told a recent meeting of the National Information Board, which he chairs, that new technology could save the NHS £8.3 billion to £13.7 billion per year.

This is on the basis of a report looking at the potential for new, technology enabled ways of working across six key areas identified by the NIB, which has not been made public.   

Referencing these comments, Stevens told the Cambridge Health Networks audience: “I don’t think you can say tech is a silver bullet with £10 billion in savings associated with it, but I think you can be pretty sure you are not going to get the broader savings you want without that being part of the mix.”

He added that there are no easy solutions and a lot of work is still to be done. “There is nothing inevitable about the combination of stuff we have got to get right and execute effectively over the next five years. That is going to take an enormous and sophisticated effort on the part of a huge array of people.”

Kelsey, who was also speaking at the Cambridge Health Networks event, said progress had been made on improving the use technology in the NHS.

He suggested that NHS England had reached a “tipping point” with the news earlier this year that 6.6 million people had registered with their GP practices to view their Summary Care Record and access other NHS services online.

These services are still to be embedded into the NHS, however, and Kelsey mentioned that significant work needed to be done on developing confidence among patients and healthcare professionals.

As an example of this, he said he is “ashamed” that there are people who don’t use the NHS Number as a primary identifier despite its use now being a legal requirement.

“One of the biggest challenges we currently have is being clear about the benefits of these kind of approaches in way that people can understand them.

“We have some very smart people working out there in health and care and many don’t instinctively agree with the fact that data sharing is a good thing or giving people access to digital tools in general practice is a good thing.

“They worry for good reasons it might affect the way in which clinical services are delivered. We have got a lot to do on telling the story on why this is a good thing to do.”