Healthcare says farewell Prime Minister Tony Blair

…and goodbye to Britain's IT Tsar

]UK — Leading up to his June departure as Prime Minister, Tony Blair highlighted his government's achievements in the National Health Service (NHS), particularly in the way technology has improved and is set to improve patient care.

[Bild-1Indeed, since his Labour Government launched the country’s massive £12 billion National Programme for IT (NpfIT), the Department of Health (DoH) reports that 92 National Health Service Trusts and over 250 hospitals, across the country, use picture archiving and communications systems (PACS). And, in May, the DoH announced that London is the second region in England to complete 100% of its PACS installations – this means every London hospital Trust is using PACS – which is also predicted to be the case for all the country’s Trusts by 2008.

The highly difficult NHS Connecting for Health  programme has been headed by Richard Granger, who took on often seemingly impossible tasks, including the introduction of IT to achieve electronic patient records (EPR). Speaking about the achievement with digital imaging in London, recently, he said: ‘This is an important part of the bigger picture, in which hundreds of new systems have already been installed, benefiting tens of thousands of clinicians and millions of patients.’ It has been estimated that about 39 million patients are now affected by the use of PACS – about 80% of  England’s population.

IT Chief quits
Then came a bombshell – Richard Granger, aged 42 and said to be earning £290,000 as CEO of NHS Connecting for Health, handed in his resignation from this job in mid-June, just a short period before a new prime minister – Gordon Brown – takes over from Tony Blair, with expected alterations to the Cabinet.

Richard Granger had suffered many head-on collisions with IT companies to try to keep the programme within its massive budget – a nigh on impossible task. However, he can indeed count many successes, which include the ‘choose and book’ scheme for patients to select a hospital and appointment time online.  The DoH has also pointed out that the national use of the PACS has cut diagnosis times from over six days to under three.

Tony Blair sums up
Nearing the end of 10-year role as Prime Minister, Tony Blair visited healthcare workers and, when addressing an audience at the King’s Fund in London reflected on a decade of progress in the National Health Service. Healthcare, he declared, is ‘…no longer the preserve of the lucky or well-connected’.

Welcoming the Prime Minister, Secretary of State, Chairman of the British Medical Association, CEO of the Long Term Conditions Alliance, Policy Director of the NHS Confederation and many other healthcare leaders, Niall Dickson, CEO of the Kings Fund confirmed that the country had seen 10 years of ‘significant change, with unprecedented levels of funding that will leave health spending in Britain at or around the average for the EU’. He also added that the Fund believes there have been significant improvements in key areas, but also ‘missed opportunities as well as serious challenges and difficult decisions ahead’.

Four reports had been published by the DoH, coinciding with PM Blair’s meeting at the Fund. These covered cardiac care, cancer treatments, emergency services and mental health. Focusing on reforms and measures introduced in the early phase of the government, they cite these improvements of include a maximum waiting time of four hours per patient in Accident and Emergency; a 40% reduction in heart disease; 99% of patients with suspected cancer are seen within two weeks; and suicides have been at their lowest since records began.

‘What I think is undeniable is this,’ Tony Blair pointed out. ‘In terms of waiting, which was a problem in 1997, there have been real and transformative reductions and by the end of next year, if we succeed, then the concept of waiting as traditionally addressed in the Health Service will have gone.’

Nigel Edwards, Policy Director of the NHS Confederation pointed out the very bad state of the NHS, due to serious under-funding, when PM Blair’s party came to office.  ‘A lot of work was needed to repair the infrastructure,’ he pointed out. The NHS now is in a far better position than hoped for in 1997 or even 2000, he added, ‘…and in England, at least, we have a policy that is now much more convergent with the rest of the developed world in particular, moving away from the very peculiar position that the UK has of having such direct state control and ownership of its hospitals and other health care providers, which we have been somewhat off the graph with.’

Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said that he never expected such a success on waiting lists and waiting times and better funding has been achieved under this government. However, he pointed out that the average nurse earns £24,000, making this the lowest paid of the professional groups. He also pointed out the ‘brutal’ deficits issue of the couple of years, and the number of healthcare workers redundancies that have been undertaken. He also made significant points about the way people were promoted beyond their then abilities, only to lose jobs later, and much else on personnel handling, as well as that of the various strategic health authorities. In his 38-year career in the NHS, he said, he had never ever seen so much money in the service, and sadly, in some areas, never seen so much wasted.

However, in conclusion, he said overall this government is to be commended, though not for the pay offer to the lowest paid people in the NHS.
At the time of going to press, incoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s selection of leaders for the country’s healthcare remain unknown.


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