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Health secretary Matt Hancock launches NHSX organisation to lead tech strategy

Central unit will bring together leadership in digital, data and technology to support NHS technology vision and Long-Term Plan

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock is furthering his overhaul of technology in the NHS by launching a new central unit to lead on digital strategy.

The organisation, called NHSX, will bring together responsibility for policy, implementation and change in digital, data and technology across the health service in England.

NHSX will have its own chief executive, who is yet to be appointed, reporting to Hancock. The unit will have a similar remit to the Government Digital Service (GDS) when it was first created in 2011, setting national standards and policies, working with other NHS organisations to support digital transformation, developing common technologies and services, and overhauling procurement practices. It will also lead on cyber security, digital skills, and evaluating innovative new technologies.

“NHSX will combine some of the best minds from among the NHS, leading innovators and government into one unit to set national policy, remove red tape and create a culture of innovation to allow the best innovations to flourish,” said Hancock.

Since his appointment as health secretary in July 2018, Hancock has made technology a top priority for the NHS. One of his first moves was to make £487m available for NHS technology projects and to replace paper-based systems. In September, he announced a £200m fund for digital centres of excellence and plans to pilot the NHS app across England.

In October, he launched his NHS technology vision, based on modern technology architecture, a focus on user needs, privacy and security, interoperability and inclusion. In January this year, he launched a new £450m framework for GP IT systems. And last week he announced a policy to make email the default method for communicating with patients.

Announcing the new organisation, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said too much of existing NHS technology relies on systems designed for “a pre-internet age”.

“Patients are not getting the care they need because their data does not follow them round the system,” it said. “Doctors and nurses have to take time away from patients to cope with sub-par technology. Change has been slow because responsibility for digital, data and tech has been split across multiple agencies, teams and organisations.”

The NHS Long-Term Plan, the 10-year programme for improving the health service that was unveiled in January, also put digital capabilities at the heart of strategy.

Hancock said: “Because I care about patients getting the best treatment, I care about the NHS getting the best technology. But everyone knows how hard it’s been to get the NHS to adopt the best in digital.

“We’ve set out a clear tech vision for the NHS, which underpins our NHS Long-Term Plan. Now we’re bringing together the tech leadership into NHSX, which will be responsible for harnessing the true potential of technology to transform care, save lives, free up clinicians’ time and empower patients to take greater control of their own health.”

Matthew Swindells, deputy chief executive of NHS England, said the organisation will be a big help in delivering new digital capabilities.

“Bringing together the leadership around this exciting agenda in one place will help us deliver the far-reaching practical improvements from the Long-Term Plan, improve the working lives of NHS staff and deliver better, safer care for patients,” he said.

NHS Digital chief executive Sarah Wilkinson welcomed the formation of NHSX as a means to improve planning across the health service.

“This new joint venture between the organisations that currently define digital strategy and commission digital services will create cohesion in these activities by concentrating work and capabilities in one unit,” she said.

“Within NHS Digital, we view NHSX as an important and welcome initiative and we are absolutely committed to working closely with colleagues in NHSX to make this new venture a success.”

NHS Digital was set up to lead on aspects of digital delivery across the health service, but in a statement, the organisation said its “statutory position within the health and care system” will not change as a result of the creation of NHSX.

“Our responsibilities, particularly in areas such as data custodianship, information governance and the publication of official statistics, will not change, and our independence in executing these functions will not be compromised,” it said. 

“NHSX will, it its initial form, assume responsibility for a small number of areas of work where NHSD has previous led. It is, for example, expected to assume leadership for the definition of key digital, data and technology standards for the health and care system and their enforcement.

“The programme of work that NHSD is currently leading in this area is therefore expected to transition to NHSX. The exact details of work to be migrated will be confirmed by the new CEO of NHSX after an initial period of assessment and planning once the organisation has been established.”

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