Details of how the government will invest more than £1 billion on digitising the  NHS over the next five years will be announced shortly, minister for life sciences George Freeman has said.

Treasury documents relating to last November’s Spending Review indicated that the government would invest £1 billion in NHS IT over the course of this Parliament.

Freeman indicated the final figure will be “quite a lot bigger”, but could not give more detail as it is not yet in the public domain.

“Digitisation of the NHS and our healthcare sector is absolutely central to our commitment and our investment in a 21st Century healthcare system,” Freeman told Digital Health News.

“That’s why we have prioritised it in the Spending Review and will shortly be announcing the total spend on that programme over this Parliament.”

Some of this money has already been earmarked for investment in installing free wi-fi across the NHS estate, as recommended in a recent review by Martha Lane Fox into how the NHS can improve uptake of digital technology. 

It is also expected to fund the six key workstreams identified by the National Information Board as part of its vision for a digital NHS, outlined in 'Personalised Health and Care 2020', the IT framework issued in 2014.

These include: providing patients with online access to health information and transactions as well as apps; the creation of interoperable electronic patient records to allow better data sharing; and supporting health and care professionals to make the best use of technology.

Freeman said the government has already funded a number of projects to trial new innovations, such as the 50 vanguard sites looking at new models of care and the newly announced ‘test bed’ sites piloting ideas such as telecare and remote monitoring of patients.

“We have set up a number of very specific ring-fenced programmes to support technology investment for transformation and we are right now working with NHS England on a roll-out plan for how and where we invest in technology to get the early wins for maximum impact,” he explained.

When asked whether the £1 billion investment will be ringfenced for IT, he said readers can: “Take a lot of comfort from the fact it’s NHS England themselves that have set out a very powerful commitment to the importance of technology for transformation to ease pressure on the system.”

Freeman added that, “the urgency of that pressure on the system is actually in many ways the great opportunity for digital and health technology to show the power of what it can deliver.”

He said the devolution deals done for Manchester and London are another way of empowering local health economies to deliver the integration and transformation needed to make the service more efficient and sustainable.

“The scale of the commitment that we have made and the clarity of Jeremy Hunt’s and my plan for delivering specific tangible benefits can give people a lot of faith and they have NHS England’s commitment in the Five Year Forward View that this is essential for safe modern efficient services,” Freeman said.

Read the full interview with minister George Freeman in features.