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A fifth of NHS trusts still don’t have a plan for overhauling outdated tech

NHS executives are struggling to overhaul their IT systems, more than two years after the government launched a nationwide digital transformation programme for the health service.

Ministers unveiled a £4bn fund for modernising NHS IT in early 2016, but new research from IT service management provider Solarwinds suggests thousands of doctors and nurses are still beholden to outdated technology.

A survey of 102 NHS IT leaders revealed that 17 per cent of trusts have failed to put in place a digital transformation strategy and that a further 24 per cent have only just started one.

“It is evident that implementing new strategies is not considered a simple, or necessary, process,” said Solarwinds’ chief government technologist Paul Parker. “This, however, should be the role of the IT teams within the healthcare industry — to integrate the most efficient technology solutions that then enable the medical staff to do their jobs.”

The NHS owns a tenth of the world’s pagers and remains the single biggest buyer of fax machines. A report published last year suggested the digital revolution had “largely bypassed the health service”. Doctors and nurses were resorting to messaging apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp to send patient scans, the report revealed.

The health service’s outdated IT infrastructure was laid bare last May when WannaCry ransomware spread rapidly through dozens of hospital trusts. The Public Accounts Committee warned in April that, nearly a year on, the government had failed to prepare the NHS for another major strike.

“Government must get a grip on the vulnerabilities of and challenges facing local organisations, as well as the financial implications of WannaCry and future attacks across the NHS,” Meg Hillier, the chair of the PAC, said in a statement at the time.

The National Audit Office reported in October that WannaCry, a “relatively unsophisticated” strike, had led to the cancellation of an estimated 19,500 appointments and operations across 81 trusts in England.