NHSX launches Tech Plan vision

The strategy will see a phased approach to the delivery of digitisation in the healthcare sector, with delivery kicking off this summer

The NHS will see a new push towards the digitisation of the healthcare system as its digital unit NHSX unveiled a strategy outlining exactly how it will get there.

Supporting the NHS Long-Term Plan goal of ensuring the personalised, joined-up and proactive delivery of health and care, the Tech Plan sets out how technology will help fulfil this ambition.

Announced today, the strategy aims to ensure all the essential building blocks are in place to get there, as well as a clear division of labour, and a plan. According to the document that outlines the vision, there has been significant progress in some parts of the system, but there is still a gap between the promise of technology and the reality on the ground.

Visionary talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and data will sound hollow to nurses who have to wait 15 minutes to log on to their computers, in hospitals where patient data is stored in paper files at the end of patients’ beds, where doctors cannot access GP records or test results without phone calls and faxes,” the document noted, adding that application of emerging tech also sounds worthless to social care workers, who have to rely on inconsistent paper records or faxed information when a patient is discharged into their care.

The plan is composed of five phases of consultation that cover all stages from vision through to delivery, to be launched in summer 2020, and the ways that success will be measured. According to the document, each section of the plan will be developed iteratively as it progresses.

The first phase of the Tech Plan presents the mission and values, and sets out what the NHSX wants to achieve and how technology will help deliver the Long-Term Plan. The second phase will focus on what the digital unit has done since its launch, what will be done in the next year and a “comprehensive framing” for what will be accomplished within a three- to five-year timescale.

During the third phase, NHSX will focus on enablers such as systems and infrastructure. At this stage, the digital unit will seek to define “what ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ in digital transformation look like” now, as well as a “best guess” for 2024, by which time the NHS has committed to having every provider digitised. This phase will see the digital unit outlining who pays for what and providing guidelines around standards and architecture.

Delivery of the plan kicks off in phase four, which covers the period from summer 2020 through to March 2024. Standards, guidance and policies will need to be developed at this stage, as well as potential funding routes. At this point, it is possible that, where needed, some products and services will be delivered centrally.

“We will actively engage with people across the health and care system, providing the opportunity for patients, health and care professionals and other front-line staff, researchers, managers and boards and other stakeholders to shape our work”
NHSX Tech Plan

In the final phase, ways to measure success will be defined, both in terms of digital maturity and impact for patients and the workforce across the healthcare system.

“We will actively engage with people across the health and care system, providing the opportunity for patients, health and care professionals and other front-line staff, researchers, managers and boards and other stakeholders to shape our work,” the document stated.

A consultation has been launched for the various stakeholders to engage with the NHS during the engagement exercise of the coming months. The idea is that the platform will become a collaboration centre, with comments on the Vision, stories on tech-related problems and solutions, and case studies being shared by the various actors of the health and care system, staff and citizens.

The Tech Plan is based on NHSX’s observation of a number of shortcomings across the system. One of the key points made in the document outlining the vision is that digitisation in the NHS is variable, with some parts of the system ensuring their tech is updated and functioning, while others wait for the centre to pay for this. “Most are somewhere between the two,” the document noted.

Data is also not flowing safely across the NHS for “legitimate sharing” for aims including research. According to the document, this is due to lack of interoperability and complex guidance on information governance. The vision document notes that research and development are happening in the NHS and in the healthtech sector, but the barriers to adoption at scale are too high.

Tech confidence and expertise is also variable across the front line, with the majority of CEOs and clinicians still lacking digital training and tools.

Citizens are also part of the picture, and even though more people are using the NHS App, patients still struggle to see their own data, the document noted, adding that the NHS still has “some way to go to ensure that digital technology is reducing health inequalities rather than exacerbating them”.

“As we digitise services and provide new ways of delivering services, we must continue to be transparent with citizens about the information that is held about them and how it is used,” the document argued.

Participation is a key feature of the Tech Plan’s vision, so the views of those using and providing healthcare services will be crucial to the success of the strategy.

“It is important that health and care services are designed around the needs of individuals and enabled by the right technology for the best experience and outcomes,” said the opening statement of the engagement platform.

“Our Tech Plan needs to be informed and co-produced by those on the front line, who are already bringing together people, technology and infrastructure to transform health and care,” it added.

The release of the Tech Plan vision for the NHS follows an update provided by NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould, who outlined what has been achieved by the digital unit since its launch as well as priorities going forward.

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