The provision of free wi-fi across the NHS estate is one of four, major recommendations set out by internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox in a new report on the digital future of health.
Lane Fox, who co-founded travel website lastminute.com, was commissioned by health secretary Jeremy Hunt to develop proposals on how to improve take-up of digital innovations in healthcare. The recommendations were accepted today by the National Information Board at a leadership summit.
Among her proposals is access for patients and staff to have access to free wi-fi. This is something that has previously been championed by NHS England’s national director for patients and information, and chair of the NIB, Tim Kelsey.
The report says this will allow patients staying in hospital to maintain contact with social networks and their family and friends. It also mentions that it could allow people to self-monitor their condition using apps, which is another key goal of Kelsey’s.
Speaking at the NIB leadership summit, Lane Fox said that having access to wi-fi would support people who feel “ostracised in hospital”.
Deborah El Sayed, director of digital and multichannel development at NHS England, gave further details, saying it intends to create a map of existing provision of free wi-fi across the NHS estate by April 2016.
The commissioning board also wants to establish an evidence base on the benefits of free access to wi-fi for patients and staff by July 2016.
By January 2017 NHS England intents to publish availably of public wi-fi in the provider profiles of NHS Choices, potentially influencing a person’s decision to seek care at a specific organisation.
Other recommendations made in the report include having at least 10% of registered patients in each GP practice using a digital service such as online appointment booking, repeat prescriptions and access to records by 2017.
Nearly all NHS patients in England now have the capability to access these services, which are part of NHS England’s Patient Online programme, which centres on giving every citizen online access to their full medical record by 2018.
Recent figures posted by the HSCIC show that for the first six months of 2015-16 patients used online services offered by their GP practice to order medication 7.6 million times and to book or rearrange appointments just over 5 million times.
Responding to a question from the audience, Lane Fox admitted the goal of 10% might not be that high; but that she wanted to set a target that was “achievable” rather than something that was “insanely ambitious”.
Digital inclusion is another key issue for Lane Fox, who sits as a crossbencher in the Lords as Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho. Her report says that those with the most health and social care needs are often the most digitally excluded and this group must be considered first when it comes to any digital development.
“One of the founding principles of the NHS was to ensure that everyone – irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation – should have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up to date medical and allied services available,” said Lane Fox, remarking that 33% of people with registered disabilities have never used the internet.
El Sayed said the initial focus of this part of the programme will be on end-of-life care as a demonstrator that this work can then be spread throughout the health and care service. Work on this is expected to be completed by January 2017.
The final recommendation in the report is to educate the NHS workforce to make sure they have appropriate digital skills. This can not only help healthcare professionals in their own role, but impact their motivation to promote digital services to patients, it argues.
Key plans in this area include curating existing digital skills tools and training packages and publishing them in an accessible format by July 2016. This will be followed by the commissioning of further training resources in October 2016 and then the development of a way to measure and track the digital skills of NHS staff by the end of 2016.
Commenting on the report, Hunt said that the government’s commitment of £1 billion to invest in NHS technology over the next five years will support the creation of an NHS “digitally fit for purpose in the 21st century."
Kelsey, who leaves for a new role in Australia this month, said: “These bold challenges to the system to ensure that every person in the UK benefits are very welcome, and will galvanise work already underway to put power in the hands of patients, enabling them to take control of their care and improve their health.”