£4bn investment for NHS digital transformation

Billions of pounds will be invested in the NHS to accelerate the health service's transition into a paperless system and improve information-security

The UK's National Health Service is set to get an injection of billions to update its IT capabilities
The UK's National Health Service is set to get an injection of billions to update its IT capabilities

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced his intentions to bring the NHS into the 21st century with more than £4 billion of investment as part of the ‘digital transformation' plan.

£1 billion of that will go towards information-security, pegged as a looming problem for the NHS, which handles the medical data of most of the UK population. £1.8 billion will be used to advance the NHS long awaited transformation to a  paperless system.

In January 2013, Jeremy Hunt announced the NHS' migration from paper to tablet saying, “The NHS cannot be the last man standing as the rest of the economy embraces the technology revolution.”

He added, “It is crazy that paramedics cannot access a full medical history of someone they are picking up in an emergency – and that GPs and hospitals still struggle to share digital records.”

The Health Secretary echoed a similar sentiment in his recent announcement. On the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Hunt said that, “proper investment in IT can save time for doctors and nurses and means they can spend more time with patients”.

The advent of the NHS' paperless system means that cyber-security will become an ever more central part of the NHS' day to day concerns.

A series of recent Freedom Of Information disclosures by cloud solutions company Accellion showed what the company called an ‘alarming' lack of cyber-security as the NHS goes into an all-mobile, paperless system.

The findings showed that while 80 percent of NHS staff, have been given mobile devices with access to patient records, three quarters of NHS trusts had no cyber-security training programme. The California-based company said at the time,“NHS trusts across England do not have adequate training programmes that guard employees against cyber-threats”.

The rest of the £4 billion investment will go towards improving care and giving people better access to their medical data through NHS accredited apps which will also collect data from the patients.

SCMagazineUK.com spoke to John Smith, principal solution architect at Veracode, an application security company, who said that these proposals, “will certainly offer patients and health professionals more efficient digital services which are long overdue.”

But added that the rise in healthcare apps, “could cause headaches for the government. That's why it's vital that all applications which access confidential data are fully tested and protected from vulnerabilities which could be an easy target for cyber-criminals wishing to damage the NHS or profit from the wealth of sensitive data it holds.”

Veracode's previous research has showed a poor record for the health industry trying to create apps. In a June 2015 report, Veracode found that 69 percent of such apps failed to meet basic security standards. Smith added, “Healthcare apps were also found to have a particularly high prevalence of cryptographic flaws which is rather worrying given that encryption is one of the key technologies needed to protect sensitive data.”

This development might be welcome for those who have long warned of the security pitfalls that the NHS risks. Gordon Morrison, director of government relations at Intel Security told SC: “This investment sends a clear signal that the government is serious about transforming the NHS and making it fit for the digital age.  However, the journey towards digitised records and services brings with it challenges around cyber-security, privacy and protection of patient data.”

Which is why, said Morrison, “it's vital that the digital NHS plan is underpinned with a dedicated cyber-strategy that can enable secure transformation that protects data from outsider threats. This approach will mean doctors, nurses and patients can enjoy world class digital health services and operate with genuine confidence in the increasingly connected online world.”

The Labour Party, currently in opposition, has its own response to Hunt's planned investment. The Shadow Health Secretary, Justin Madders MP told press: “Any investment in technology is welcome but it's unclear how much, if any, of this money is actually new. Madders added that "The Tories cannot hide from the fact that the NHS is going backwards on their watch."