Free wi-fi will be available across all NHS buildings in England as part of the government’s commitment to a paperless health service by 2020, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
In a statement, the Department of Health said funding for the project will come from the £1 billion committed to invest in technology in the NHS as part of last month’s spending review.
A spokesperson for the DH told Digital Health News that specific costings for the programme are still being worked out and that there is no set date for completion; although it likely be by 2020 as per the plan for the NHS to be paperless and digital.
The spokesperson added that the DH has no figures on the current availably of wi-fi in NHS buildings, but that this information is being collected by NHS England via digital maturity assessments.
These have been sent to trusts to get an overview of the digital capabilities of NHS organisations in England. A new digital maturity index should be published in 2016.
Commenting on the plan, Hunt said: "Everyone using the NHS expects it to be a world leader in digital healthcare and free wi-fi is an essential part of making that a reality. It will give patients and staff the ability to access the services they need as well as freeing up clinical time and reducing overall costs.”
The commitment follows the completion of a review by Martha Lane Fox into how the NHS can improve uptake of digital technology, which recommended free wi-fi across the NHS estate among four main proposals.
Lane Fox, who presented her review to the National Information Board earlier this month, said that free wi-fi would allow patients staying in hospital to download apps related to their condition and to maintain contact with family and friends outside hospital.
The DH reiterated these views and that free wi-fi would also allow hospitals to increase the use of wearable technologies to monitor patients in hospital, such as tools to identify diabetes patients at risk of hypoglycaemia.
The DH also said there will be benefits for staff as they will be better able to use digital technologies such as tablets to do administrative tasks.
It gave the example of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which has free wi-fi already installed, allowing the trust to replace bedside paper charts with "early warning” tablet computers to identify at risk patients.
Staff at the trust, which is joint top of Digital Health Intelligence’s Clinical Digital Maturity Index, can input a patient's vital signs into a tablet which links to the patient’s barcoded wristband. Clinicians can then see if a patient’s condition is deteriorating and receive advice on how to manage their care.
An NHS spokesperson said: "As we have said before, Wi-Fi would certainly improve patients’ experience of hospital and enable doctors and nurses to adopt better ways of working through portable devices, known to cut medication errors."