NHS organisations that fail to reach "digital maturity" by 2018-20 will be at risk of having their funding pulled, Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England, has said.
Kelsey was speaking to The Register ahead of the NHS's release of its Personalised Health and Care 2020 strategy today. The document details plans for making care records available electronically across the health system by 2018 for urgent care services and 2020 for all services.
"We have to draw a line in the sand and say you have to go digital by 2018-2020 or you wont get paid," he told El Reg.
Responding to the question of whether the NHS has the technical expertise to become fully digital by that deadline - given its number of PCs still running Windows XP - he said: "We certainly don't think its not a challenge."
But Kelsey said he believed the deadline is "realistic".
Financial resources will also be made available, he said. "We will need further funding to get there and short-term investment to support the adoption of digital standards."
However, Kelsey declined to provide a figure for the amount of funding needed.
"This [plan] is a hard stop for NHS organisations to achieve full digital maturity," he said.
Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association's general practitioners committee, told El Reg: "History has shown it is unhelpful to set rigid dates. We must make sure the system has all the safeguards, confidence and trust of patients in place,rather than chase an arbitrary date."
Earlier this year the NHS came under fire for rushing its Care.data scheme - which aimed to put GP records on a central database - and failing to properly consult on the privacy concerns.
Kelsey said the NHS had learned "lessons" from the Care.data debacle. As such it has named a new National Data Guardian, Dame Fiona Caldicott, who will provide oversight on the protection of patient data, he said. ®