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Digital technology should be better utilised to give those facing terminal illness more control over their care

08 December 2015
  • Health and care staff need digital skills in order to support patients to make the most of digital tools and technology

A cross-sector project to help give older people facing the end of life more control over their care is one of a number of proposals put forward today on how to increase digital inclusion across the NHS.

Earlier this year, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt tasked Baroness Martha Lane Fox to look into how to increase the take-up of internet enabled services in health and care.

Today Martha Lane Fox will present her recommendations to the National Information Board leadership summit, and lead a discussion on potential strategies for widening digital participation.

Those with the most health and social care needs are often the most digitally excluded – which is why one of Martha’s four recommendations is to “reach the furthest first”.

“I would like to see a massive transformation using internet enabled technologies, focussing on those who are digitally excluded. Older people are a traditionally digitally excluded group and people with life-limiting illness have high health and social care needs,” she explains.

Martha proposes a cross-sector project, working with older people with life-limiting or terminal illness facing the end of life, to give them “more control over their healthcare destinies.”

Her organisation Doteveryone is working with NHS England on a prototype which will demonstrate how internet-enabled technology can give older people with life-limiting illnesses greater control in planning and managing their care.

Development of this self-management tool for patients and carers, which will link up with electronic palliative care coordination systems, will begin in 2016 – with the code being made open and accessible for all.

Those behind the project hope it will show how, when you reach the furthest first, you can reach everyone, as well as provide a new model to show how to build and scale technological development in health and social care for the benefit of all.

Other recommendations put forward today include:

  • Free Wi-Fi in all NHS buildings to allow hospital patients to self-monitor their conditions using apps and maintain contact with social networks, which can support recovery and help them to stay in contact with family and friends.
  • Building the basic digital skills of the NHS workforce so they can make the most of digital tools and technology and feel confident to recommend these to patients.
  • At least 10% of registered patients in each GP practice should be using a digital service such as online appointment booking, repeat prescriptions and access to records by 2017.

Today's recommendations have been welcomed by the Digital Legacy Association, a research and training organisation which supports the end of life and hospice sector in areas relating to digital assets, digital legacy and digital bereavement.

CEO and founder of the Digital Legacy Association James Norris said: "We are delighted that today’s digital recommendations by Baroness Martha Lane Fox place such a strong emphasis on utilising today’s communication technologies.

"The recommendations include aiming to drastically improving IT literacy within the NHS workforce, setting figures on patient internet adoption and providing free Wi-Fi in every NHS building. The goals set appear to be both challenging and achievable. 

"The internet has been the biggest catalyst for change since the industrial revolution. It has changed the way in which we communicate with one another and consume information. It can also significantly speed up the amount of time it takes to carry out administrative tasks within healthcare settings.

"If the recommendations are adopted it may significantly help to improve hospital and hospice care within the UK. Furthermore, areas such as patient satisfaction may also improve."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Creating an NHS which is digitally fit for purpose in the twenty-first century is a key priority for this government. New investment of £1 billion in health technology announced in the autumn statement will help us to achieve this – making sure that patients and staff can access the services they need, helping to free up time and reduce costs."

Tim Kelsey, National Information Board Chair and NHS England national director of patients and information, added: "Digital health tools can dramatically improve people’s lives and wellbeing. 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."

You can read the recommendation in full on the Doteveryone website or watch the summit live from 1pm.

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