It’s been heavily reported recently that public sector borrowing has fallen this year. The latest figures from the ONS state that in 2012/13 borrowing was £37.9bn lower than in 2011/12. However, a recent study has shown that NHS workers are expecting more Government money in order to digitise the UK healthcare system by 2018.

This study, undertaken by market researchers Vanson Bourne, questioned 200 NHS workers between August and October of this year, from heads of trusts to IT decision-makers and healthcare professionals. One of the key findings from the research shows that many NHS workers feel they need more funding in order to achieve Jeremy Hunt’s vision for a paperless NHS by 2018, as announced by the Health Secretary in January of this year.

Despite Hunt’s declaration that there would be an additional £250m added into the Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards Technology Fund, for trusts to apply for a share of, it seems that this isn’t sufficient. According to research, as many as 82 percent of heads of trust are expecting additional funding from the Government to achieve this paperless goal, while more than half are expecting it to fund the entire cost.

What’s more, the research delves into how NHS workers perceive the progress of this initiative and findings indicate a clear disconnect between NHS trust heads and other key staff. More than half of heads of trusts are in agreement with Hunt, believing that becoming entirely paperless by 2018 is a realistic target. However, this is at odds with the view of IT decision makers and healthcare professionals; less than 25 percent of them believe this is feasible.

For those who don’t believe Hunt’s deadline of 2018 is possible, they indicate that 2021 would actually be a more achievable target for becoming paperless. Out of those who haven’t already digitised 100 percent of patient data, over half think the process will take a further two to five years to roll out, with 15 percent believing 2023 is more realistic.

In answer to those in the NHS who don’t feel 2018 is possible, a “paper light” rather than paperless environment may be a more achievable goal for them. In fact, a considerable proportion of the NHS workers surveyed anticipate that by 2018 the NHS will be “paper light.”

Additionally, much reference has been made by Hunt about digitising just patient records. It seems that the various other types of paper used every day by healthcare workers, ranging from employee records, to policy and procedure documents, have been overlooked.

It’s important to note that NHS workers are being realistic about how long this process of digitisation will take. The time taken to digitise such a major amount of documents – many thousands’ worth in fact – and then applying this across multiple departments, across many trusts in the whole of the UK can’t be underestimated.

In terms of how the initiative is progressing so far, there is some ambivalence amongst NHS institutions as to what stage they’re at. NHS trust heads think that over half of patients on average have digitised files, while clinical staff think it’s closer to two thirds. This contrasts strongly with IT staff who think that it is a lot less than half, which indicates that there is still more work to be done.

However, a major positive that we can surmise from this research is that on the whole the initiative is being welcomed by healthcare professionals. 90 percent of NHS workers are aware of it, which demonstrates that the Government has well publicised this internally in healthcare institutions. What’s more, the majority (71%) indicate their clear support for this initiative and eight out of ten trusts questioned have already budgeted for the implementation of digital documents.

It’s encouraging to note that half of all healthcare workers believe going paperless will have a positive impact on their department and patient perception of the NHS is expected to improve as a direct result of this initiative. Most importantly, two thirds believe that it will improve patient care, which ultimately is the Government’s aim.

Although this report suggests that the initial goal of 2018 for a paperless NHS may not be achievable, the fact that the healthcare system is focussing on how technology can be used to put patients at the heart of all processes and procedures is extremely positive. It’s here that a unified content management platform can play a key role, enabling healthcare workers to quickly and easily gain a holistic view of their patients and help them on their way to a paperless future.