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TechUK calls on Matt Hancock to fast-track NHS digitisation

The tech industry body’s ‘Manifesto for Matt’ calls on the health secretary to focus on empowering citizens, enabling a world-class workforce and making the UK the number one place for health tech innovation

TechUK has published a manifesto for health secretary Matt Hancock, setting out its wishlist on how the government should fast-track the digitisation of health and care.

The industry body’s Manifesto for Matt sets out a series of measures, focusing on empowering the public in the use of technologies, better enabling the workforce and making the UK the number one destination for health tech innovators.

The manifesto builds on Hancock’s NHS tech vision, which was published last month and had a clear focus on open standards and interoperability.

TechUK’s manifesto said it welcomes the commitment for robust standards, but highlighted that they also need to be “singular and transparent, so that innovators have clarity about the standards their solutions need to meet”.

“We would like to see NHS Digital provide a ‘one stop shop’ online facility that publishes up-to-date, clear guidelines on standards. But the type of NHS-industry collaboration needed to unleash the power of NHS data must go beyond that,” the manifesto said.

Make procurement easier

Hancock has said he wants the health tech industry to thrive, which TechUK said is a great idea, but very far from the current status quo where tech companies find health and social care one of the most difficult sectors to “crack”. It called on Hancock to ensure better access to data and improved procurement.

“Data, like oil, is worth nothing if it is left in the ground,” the manifesto said. “Far too much data is held in non-digital form or in siloed repositories making it impossible to join up.

“Tech companies that need data to build, develop, test and prove their solutions find it difficult to access, while companies that produce valuable data find it difficult to feed back into the System to inform better decision making.”

It added that procurement is currently slow and costly with a range of frameworks, and urged NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to “work towards a much simpler framework landscape that is more coherent, less time consuming and less costly than is currently the case.”

NHS app 

As well as improving the way the NHS interacts with suppliers, the trade body also called for Hancock to make it easier for citizens to access their health and care data.

Hancock promised last month the NHS will increase the use of digital technology to help people manage their own illnesses and take a more active role in their own health and care.

The government is also due to fully launch its NHS app, billed as the new front door to the NHS, in December 2018.

The app, which has been piloted in several regions across the country, aims to give patients access to a range of NHS services, including being able to book appointments, view their medical records, order repeat prescriptions, select their data-sharing preferences, organ donation preferences, end-of-life care preferences and access NHS 111 online’s symptom checker and triage service.

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However, TechUK’s manifesto said there is concern among suppliers the app will “crowd out a number of public-facing apps that have already been developed as a ‘front door’ to the NHS”. 

“As yet, there has been a lack of information as to how the new NHS App will compete on a level playing field alongside the existing apps currently being offered in the marketplace,” the manifesto said. 

“This has caused concern beyond those directly affected, as other digital innovators fear the scope of the app will increase or that the NHS will be looking to build other competing technologies in the future. This also has a negative effect on the investment community that underpins the innovators.”

Empowering staff 

The report also highlighted the need for developing digital health and care talent in the NHS, and supporting staff to take up digital tech.   

“There is a perception that focusing attention on exciting, ‘shiny’ new technology can leave the workforce without solutions to address their day-to-day challenges,” the report said. 

“Where digital solutions are being implemented, some are not as user friendly or intuitive as the technology available in other industries, and the already over-burdened workforce has little opportunity to take time off for extensive training. It is vital we embrace technology that gives time back to clinicians to do what they do best – care for and treat their patients.”

Commenting on the report, Ben Moody, TechUK’s head of health and social care, said there is a “broad consensus the health and care system needs urgent digitisation”. 

“This is not about a lack of will – the public and clinicians are crying out for better tech and the UK has thousands of health tech innovators looking to serve them,” he said.

“However, the system is unwieldy and frustrates their efforts. Patients can get hold of drugs but not their own data or digital tools.

“Far too many of the workforce will leave their digitally-enabled home, put away their smart phone and tablet, and pick up a pen and paper when they arrive at work,” said Moody. “And health tech innovators find themselves working in a sector often described as the most challenging of all.”

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