Paperless NHS 'not possible' by 2020

NHS IT review report behind schedule, and casts doubts over the timescales for a paperless system


Dr Robert Wachter, interim head of a Governmental review into NHS IT systems, has told delegates at King’s Fund’s event that “a fully paperless system by 2020 is not possible in the UK.”

This statement reverses an earlier claim made by Dr Wachter, interim chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, and author of The Digital Doctor.

Speaking to The Telegraph in February 2016, he claimed online prescriptions, digital patient records and smartphone apps could make the NHS more efficient and improve care.

He told the newspaper that hospitals have been failing to adapt to the 21st century and that that the NHS was “not at the level of some of the better places in the US.”

He added: “There’s a lot of paper floating around, and that’s unhealthy… There are hospitals where doctors are using digital tools, but also still using paper tools, and having to do the work twice. It’s not unreasonable to believe that by 2020 the system can be essentially digital.”

After the announcement of the review, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, committed £1.8 billion to creating a paper-free NHS by 2020.

The full review was due to be released in mid-June, but at the Digital Health and Care Congress (5–6 July), Dr Wachter confirmed that he is working to a revised date of 7 September.

Speaking at the Congress, The Commissioning Review reported Dr Wachter saying: “I cannot tell you our recommendations yet. But if you read these findings you can guess at some of the directions that we’re likely to go.”

He added: “Be careful of overpromising…I worry about this because there have been promises that we will put in computers and there will be massive benefits and productivity. I believe that is true, but I do not believe that will happen in a year or even two years."