Tories vow NHS IT and management is 'number one priority'

The Conservative Party today fired off its election-year campaigning with a focus on changing NHS IT and management, insisting that under a Tory government patients would control their own digital records online.

David Cameron, the party’s leader, said in a Westminster speech: “It’s the patients who’ll have the power in our NHS. You’ll be able to check your health records online in the same way you do your bank account.”

As Cameron announced that changing the NHS was his party’s “number one priority”, the Tories released the first part of their manifesto, in which the party stated it would “put patients in charge of their own health records”. Patients would also have the ability to “choose which providers” they share the data with.

He also focused on treatment choice, which he claimed would drive up standards. Information would be more easily accessible on the performance of doctors and hospitals, under Conservative plans, which claimed there would be an “information revolution”.

Cameron launched an attack on what he called the “top down” management structure of the NHS, stating that aggressive political decisions were being made without local involvement. Similar attacks have in the past been levelled against the £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT, under which digital records are being created, with critics maintaining that local trusts need to choose their own IT systems.

Aside from IT, the pledges include to "open up" NHS care to other providers, and linking GPs’ pay to their quality of care as rated by patients. Hospitals would also effectively be fined for every patient that acquires an avoidable infection during treatment, and care for mental health patients would be expanded, mixed-sex hospital wards stopped, and local authorities funded to help them prevent citizens’ illness, Cameron said.

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Last year, the Conservatives faced controversy after they announced plans to replace the new central repository of NHS patient records with alternatives including online products from Google and Microsoft.

The Conservative plans come as the government prepares to announce a “new direction” for NHS IT, which it said last month had been devised. The government has been re-assessing the performance of lead suppliers BT and CSC, as patient records systems are predicted to be delivered at least four years late, and is expected to make an announcement in the coming months. It is also looking to cut £600 million from the programme’s costs.

Whitehall has revealed few details so far of the changes it will make. But it has said it will give hospitals more influence on the programme. Under plans, local health authorities would contribute more to decisions on the programme’s scope and the timing of patient system implementations.