HC Deb 19 July 1984 vol 64 cc324-5W
Mr. Wood

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he intends to publish the report of the management consultants from Arthur Andersen and Company who have been studying the administration of family practitioner services and the use of computers.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

In September 1983 the Department of Health and Social Security and the Welsh Office commissioned Arthur Andersen, management consultants, to recommend a strategy for using computers and other developments in the family practitioner services administration for the next 10 to 15 years. Today we are publishing their report and placing copies in the Library of the House.

The report recommends an approach to computerisation which will improve services to patients as well as saving routine administration costs. It recommends a streamlined system that will use routinely held information to improve health care. Computers can help general practitioners assess and improve their own services. We will also be better able to improve monitoring of prescribing habits and drugs costs, spot possible drug interactions and help the district health authorities plan local hospital and community health services.

The new system will save time wasted in filling the same words and numbers onto paper forms, over and over again. The consultants outline the new technology family practitioner committees need to support their present work and the wider role which they will have when they take on the independent status envisaged in the Health and Social Security Bill now before Parliament. If computers are used under stringent controls to protect patients' privacy, in accordance with new data protection laws, they can make an enormous difference to the effectiveness of the Health Service, as well as its efficiency and economy. We welcome the report's emphasis on the use of new technology to reduce administrative costs and to improve patient care. We are satisfied that the report points in the right direction though the speed of implementation must depend on the availability of resources.

The report suggests that computers should be introduced over the next 10 to 15 years in three stages. The first stage would be linkage and increased use of computers in the administrative bodies to speed up routine work including the transfer of medical records. This stage could be completed by 1990 with an investment of £25 million over several years leading to savings of £10 million a year in the 1990s.

The second stage, starting in the early 1990s, calls for widespread links with practitioners' computers following pilot trials. These links could be used to improve patient care—for example screening programmes, professional self audit, better monitoring of prescribing habits and potential drug interactions.

The consultants have also suggested a possible third stage at the end of the century making further use of the established computer systems. This could include better communications between family doctors and hospitals and even having computer readable medical cards kept by the patient coded with their current medication. The report sees this card being used to improve information to patients concerned about their health, and the drugs they are taking. However, the report recognises that any card of this type would need safeguards and would have to be acceptable to patients and doctors alike.

The report estimates that its recommendations could reduce staffing levels but it offers the prospect of more satisfying work for many other staff.