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NHSX ends digital programmes and sets out delivery priorities

The digital unit concludes tech spending review in the health system, defines delivery missions and drives focus on standards and platforms

NHS tech tsar Matthew Gould has announced the end of various digital transformation programmes, as NHSX introduces a new approach to digitisation in the health service.

Having carried out a review of 30 different digital initiatives across the NHS, he said a number of them will be axed so that the digital delivery unit can focus on standards and platforms. The unit has also set out its delivery missions.

According to the NHSX chief, the idea is to keep the centre “as thin as possible” and create a springboard that third parties can use to build new offerings.

“This is how the internet works, and it’s the only way we’ll ever be able transform an organisation as large as the NHS,” Gould said in a blog post.

“This process has been a hugely valuable exercise, bringing together the entire tech leadership of the NHS to thrash out agreement in exactly the way that NHSX was designed to do,” he said.

Projects to be terminated include Medicines Data and Integrating Pharmacy Across Care Settings programmes, which will be included into NHSX work on interoperability.

Other projects that will end where work has or will soon be completed include NHS Wi-Fi, which has been delivered in March, and Widening Digital Participation, which is nearing its planned conclusion and will also be incorporated into wider NHSX work. Access to Service Information and Digitising Community Pharmacy are also moving to live.

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The review also resulted in the definition of a list of 10 projects the NHSX will be focusing on. These cover the NHS app and citizen identity; digital child health and maternity; integrating community providers; screening; booking, referrals and appointments management; standards, including for medication; primary care; urgent and emergency care; social care; and local capability.

The Local Health and Care Records Exemplars, the Global Digital Exemplar programme and NHS Digital Academy will also continue.

The interoperability issue

According to Gould, the key problem raised by health practitioners during the review was the need for interoperability, which “puts patients at risk” as professionals can’t get the data they need about patients and “stifles innovation” as third parties can’t build on them.

The point about the need for interoperability was echoed by Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer at NHS England, in a keynote speech at the Digital Healthcare Show in London on 26 June.

Describing the current process of booking and changing outpatient appointments as a “Dante’s Inferno style”, Eccles accepted that the NHS is “painfully aware” its disconnected systems are not centred around user needs.

“We cannot digitise the NHS without taking the population with us and it having trust in how we’re going to handle that data,” he said. “We need to make this process much easier to understand and transparent to individuals.”

Another area cited by Eccles where interoperability would be useful is in medication. “I want every medication message in the NHS to be interoperable and machine readable, with individuals having a single list of medications that can be accessed in the hospital, at their GP or even at the comfort of their own home,” said Eccles.

The current medication system – where, due to a lack of interoperability, pharmacists have to transcribe information from the prescribing system into the dispensing platform by hand – is, according to him, a “specialised madness that has to stop”.

Eccles has recently stepped down from the NHS Digital board, with Gould his successor. Eccles was appointed as chief clinical information officer for health and care in February 2018, a role focused on the provision of clinical leadership on the digital transformation agenda.

The delivery missions for NHSX

  • Reducing the burden on clinicians and staff so they can focus on patients
  • Giving people the tools to access information and services directly
  • Ensuring clinical information can be safely accessed, wherever it is needed
  • Aiding the improvement of patient safety across the NHS
  • Improving NHS productivity with digital technology

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