The government and NHS will invest £1bn in technology over the next three years in a bid to improve patient care and ease pressure on A&E departments, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced today.
The move is part of ongoing efforts to make more services, such as booking GP appointments and ordering repeat prescriptions, universally available online by March 2015. The government also wants to give all citizens the ability to access their GP records online within the same time frame.
A large proportion of the funding will be spent on systems that will enable hospitals, GP surgeries and out-of-hours doctors to share access to patients' electronic records.
This means that doctors, nurses and social care professionals providing emergency care will be able to access the details they need to give patients effective treatment.
The NHS hopes that this will enable health professionals to spend more time seeing patients and less time completing paperwork, and that errors will be eradicated, such as drugs being prescribed incorrectly due to patients' paper notes getting lost.
"The public are rightly sceptical about NHS IT after the disastrous waste that happened in the past. But we can't let their failure hold patients back from seeing the benefits of the technology revolution that is transforming daily lives," said Hunt. "It is deeply frustrating to hear stories of elderly dementia patients turning up at A&E with no one able to access their medical history, and for their sakes as well as all NHS users we need to put this right.
"That's why I've set the NHS the challenge of going paperless by 2018. But rather than imposing a clunky one size fits all approach from Whitehall, this fund will empower local clinicians and health services to come together and find innovative solutions for their patients. Technology is key to helping our A&E staff meet the massive demand they face as the population increases and ages," he added.
Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information for NHS England, said: "A single patient record will help make the patient journey from hospital to home seamless, giving professionals from different health and care organisations access to information when they need it most, without patients having to repeat themselves every time they speak to a different doctor, nurse or care professional."
The Department of Health will be putting up a total of £500m, which will be matched by local health and care systems. The £260m funding announced earlier this year by the Department of Health forms part of the department's overall contribution.
Earlier this year, Dr Jonathan Richardson, clinical director of informatics at the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said that the issues with sharing confidential patient information need to be tackled before the NHS attempts to go paperless.
As Computing investigated in April, there are still many issues with data-sharing to be ironed out - some of which have been tackled by Dame Fiona Caldicott's independent review, with others yet to be dealt with.