An independent report into the controversial data sharing deal between the NHS and AI company DeepMind has made some worrying observations about the Byzantine mix of old and new technology in the national health service.
The study into the ins and outs of what The Royal Free London and the company, a subsidiary of the same holding company that owns Google, Alphabet, mainly deals with the privacy concerns that prompted a sharp rebuke from the ICO this week.
But it’s the observations made by the panel behind the study into the complexity of technology our doctors and nurses use to do their jobs that will be of most concern to public sector buyers and sellers of ICT.
The problems are summed up by the following statement: “The digital revolution has largely bypassed the NHS, which, in 2017, still retains the dubious title of being the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines [and] many records are insecure paper based systems which are unwieldy and difficult to use.”
The fact that this is still the case despite years of the Department of Health promising us a ‘Paperless NHS’ will hit home to many practitioners, as will the observation that clinicians are coming up with their own work-rounds to their antiquated tech resources, such as using SnapChat to share scans or camera apps to record details of patient information in a convenient format.
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The study notes that this is “clearly an insecure, risky, and non-auditable way of operating” that “cannot continue”, but says such unsupervised information sharing is understandable, as medics want to do their best for patients.
The group points out that the average NHS trust has 160 different computer systems in use, while poor skills levels remain a major issue for the NHS.
“There are real problems around the NHS and how it uses data and how securely that is kept,” said the panel chair, former Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, who is now a science policy adviser at Cambridge University.
“There is [therefore] a huge amount of work [needed] to improve the standards of data security to improve the standards of privacy across the entirety of the NHS.”