All hospitals and GP practices will soon have access to the fastest fibre optic broadband under new government plans.
Announcing the plans on 30 April, the secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, said the upgrade would support a promise made in the NHS Long Term Plan to improve the range and access of digital healthcare services.
Existing plans state 70% of NHS organisations are expected to have full fibre connectivity by August 2020. The new plans will see it rolled out to every hospital, GP and community care service, but no completion date has been set.
Currently about 40% of NHS organisations are using slow and unreliable internet supplied through copper lines, restricting their ability to offer digital services, such video consultations, as the outdated technology cannot cope with the speed required.
Hancock said: “It’s simply unbelievable that a third of NHS organisations are using internet that can sometimes be little better than dial-up.
“To give people control over how they access NHS services, I want to unlock the full potential of technology – this is the future for our 21st century healthcare system and a central part of our NHS Long Term Plan.
“Faster broadband connections can help us deliver these dramatic improvements – we need clinicians and other healthcare professionals to feel confident they can access fast, reliable broadband so they can provide patients with the best possible care.”
The NHS Long Term Plan, published in January, included a chapter solely on digital technology which details aims for the coming years.
It states that, in 10 years’ time, the “NHS [in England] will offer a ‘digital first’ option for most, allowing for longer and richer face-to-face consultations with clinicians where patients want or need it”.
Following the plans publication a number of healthcare leaders and suppliers welcomed the “ambitious” targets but also questioned whether it could all be done in the tight timeframes given.