NHS England and the government should work with integrated care systems (ICSs) and the pharmacy sector to improve the quality of shared patient records across the healthcare sector, according to MPs.
In a report on digital transformation in the NHS, published on 30 June 2023, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee said it backed the Hewitt review of ICSs, which was published in April 2023 and called for the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and ICSs to work together to develop a standards framework to be adopted by all ICSs.
In its recommendation, the committee said “this should improve interoperability and data sharing within and between systems”.
“This should include working closely with sectors that could feed into shared records in the future, including pharmacy, mental health and community health, to ensure that what is put in place meets their needs.”
The committee’s report highlighted the variation in progress towards digital transformation in the NHS, citing evidence from NHS Digital to the inquiry, which it said “told us that some areas of the NHS have been quicker to digitise than others”.
“They described primary care, where almost all providers have electronic patient records, as a ‘flagship’, while highlighting that only 77% of acute hospitals have the same system,” it added.
Evidence given to the inquiry from multiple pharmacy chain Boots also highlighted the patchy progress made on shared care records.
The report said: “Boots, the pharmacy, told us that wider progress towards implementing interoperable shared care records that cover interactions with the health service across an ICS has been “slow”, and that there is underlying “significant variation in data governance and technical system solutions which will slow future progress.”
In 2015, then health secretary Jeremy Hunt outlined a timetable — initially set out in the 2014 NHS England ‘Five Year Forward View‘ — which envisaged fully digitised, shared health and care records by 2020.
The “paperless by 2020” target was revised in 2016, when a government-commissioned review found that it was unrealistic and recommended 2023 instead. Subsequently, the ‘NHS Long Term Plan‘, published in 2019, said that all providers would be expected to advance to a core level of digitisation, including electronic health records, by 2024.
Commenting on the select committee’s report, Daniel Ah-Thion, IT policy manager at Community Pharmacy England, said: “The report correctly emphasises the need to establish records frameworks that eliminate the significant disparities among records systems in terms of technology, training, access and governance models.
“We strongly advocate for the implementation of NHS IT records standards that harmonise the underlying standards of the shared care record and other systems. Additionally, we propose the creation of NHS records integration application programming interfaces, enabling clinical IT system suppliers to seamlessly integrate with these records and introduce solutions that reduce the workload of pharmacy teams when it comes to accessing or modifying records as part of an expanded system.”