Matt Hancock: NHS must use more apps

The health secretary, who was the first MP to release his own app, talks up the benefits of healthcare apps

Recently appointed health secretary Matt Hancock has called for more applications to be deployed across the health service to support both patients and doctors.

Days after prioritising technology in his first major speech as the new secretary of state for health and social care, Hancock called on a growing library of NHS apps to expand even further in an interview with the BBC.

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"One of the things I've done in different parts of government is make sure that it's more tech savvy and digital," he said, speaking with BBC's current affairs programme Newsbeat.

"There's loads to do on that area in the NHS, both so you as a patient can use technology so the NHS is more convenient for you.

"But also to help clinicians - doctors, nurses - so that their lives are easier, using the sort of technology that you and I use all the time and applying that to the NHS.

Hancock, who previously held the role of secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, became the first MP to launch his own app, named 'Matt Hancock MP', in order to make it easier for his West Suffolk constituents to communicate their issues and concerns with his office.

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But the app, which included a social media-style newsfeed, was riddled with glaring security issues and bugs, and came under criticism for disregarding user privacy - leading data protection and privacy consultant Pat Walshe to publish a 70-tweet-long analysis of what he described as "a data protection comedy of errors".

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Among its biggest initial concerns were that there was no privacy policy on the app's landing page (available only following install), as well as the fact it requested access to users' photos and videos.

The new health secretary was appointed earlier in July following a mini-cabinet reshuffle and will now oversee the launch of an NHS app, which is set to be released later in 2018.

The free app, jointly developed with NHS Digital as part of NHS England's wider digital roadmap, will allow patients to book GP appointments as well as access their own medical records. Coinciding with the NHS's 70th anniversary celebrations, the free app will also allow patients to order repeat prescriptions, and access the 111 helpline for urgent medical needs.

NHS Digital also plans to expand the functionality of apps available across the health service in the form of a 'digital ID' for patients - which may adopt facial recognition as a one-time verification tool. This 85 million system is not expected to be completed until 2019 at the earliest, however.

Hancock's comments echoes the NHS' call earlier this year for developers to submit their digital healthcare applications for inclusion in its growing Apps Library, so patients are given further tools to support their healthcare needs.

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