Dr Mary McCarthy: Investment in IT crucial for NHS

IT underpins a lot of NHS work. We now have a Secretary of State who is very keen on IT, or at least on possible applications that can be used in health care.

General Practice has always been innovative where IT is involved. Way back in the 80s and 90s, various GP practices were exploring the advantages of getting all their patient records onto a computerised system.

The enthusiasm for the projects grew, general practitioners created their own software, designed coding systems for diseases and spread their expertise.

In fact, the government bought the Read codes, categorising diseases, from Dr James Read in 1992. However, GP systems have not really been updated and many practices are operating on systems which are inferior to those they might have at home. They sit and wait to log-on, they watch the hourglass turning in their screen, and during the day the system often crashes.

In Shropshire we have poor IT coverage and slow speeds.

In fact, the UK as a whole performs poorly compared with Europe which seems to have faster, better systems.

This affects the working day of most GPs, slowing interactions and impeding communication

IT in secondary care is in an even poorer shape than that of general practice.

Patients’ notes are still hand written and may be so large and dense that they are transferred in big, green, plastic boxes. Communication with general practitioners could be much better and should be possibly electronic.

Currently, letters are dictated to hospital secretaries, written on a computer, printed off, posted to the relevant practice (though not always to the relevant GP), opened, scanned back on to the practice computer and inserted into the patient’s notes.

The NHS needs much more investment generally but investment and substantial funding for IT would pay dividends now and in a future health care system.

* Dr Mary McCarthy is chair of the local medical committee and represents Shropshire, North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire on the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA. She has worked at Belvidere Surgery in Shrewsbury for more than 20 years.

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