Digital health policy – a timeline

Digital evolution in health care has become increasingly prominent in recent years. This timeline features key milestones in digital health policy since the early stages of digitisation in the 1960s, and summarises plans for 2016 and beyond.

Looking to the future

Before the Wachter review of health IT was published in September 2016, the government’s major commitments for the future were as follows.

  • 2016
    Since April, patients have had access to their full GP records through an online service.
  • Ongoing from 2016
    Create a new ‘endorsement’ model for health apps; promote transparency across the NHS; redesign the and NHS Choices web presence; spread lessons from NHS test bed sites across the NHS.
  • 2018
    Aiming for ‘paperless’ operation in most NHS settings. Patients will be able to view information from all health and social care interactions (such as follow-up letters and test results) by April of this year.
  • 2020
    The aim stated in the NHS five year forward view is for digital, real-time and interoperable care records to be used throughout the NHS by the end of this parliament.

Wachter, in his review, has proposed modifying this timetable. It is not yet clear whether the government intends to accept this; however, it looks likely to take account of Wachter’s recommendations to give most acute hospitals more time to ready themselves for change.

Wachter’s proposed changes are as follows.

The goal for paperless operation in all health and care settings extended to 2023:

  • 2016-19
    Digital exemplars for a large minority of acute trusts receive matched funding to adopt electronic care records.
  • 2020-23
    All other acute trusts to receive funding to adopt digital record systems and become interoperable in their local areas.


  • 2019
    Interoperable systems within regions, ‘anchored’ by exemplar digital trusts, to be in place.
  • 2022
    National interoperability with national set standards adopted across the system.

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