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Hancock: Better tech means better healthcare

The coronavirus pandemic has “catalysed” data-driven decision making in the NHS, according to health secretary Matt Hancock, promising a future NHS that “doubles down” on technological advances

Health secretary Matt Hancock is promising a future NHS that “doubles down” on technological advances.

The future NHS will focus on collaboration, speed and innovation by “busting bureaucracy”, he also said.

In a speech at the Royal College of Physicians, Hancock spoke about wanting to “double down on the huge advances we’ve made in technology within health and social care”, saying that the coronavirus pandemic has acted as a catalyst for innovation and “data driven decision making”.

“Just like a war, it’s forced us to improvise new ways of doing things – some which will become permanent because they are better ways of doing things,” said Hancock, adding that the past 30 years have been “littered with top-down re-organisations” of the NHS, big-bang structural reforms, theories, pilots, reports and numerous boards and commissions.

“But something important has changed. In the post-coronavirus world, we don’t have to rely on theory,” he said.

“We must learn from how the NHS and social care worked during the peak. Because so many things went right, we’ve got to bottle the best.”

He added that several arms-length bodies and organisations, such as the British Medical Association (BMA), the royal colleges and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence all agree that collaboration, speed and innovation are all things the NHS should “bottle”.

Read more about NHS technology

  • The NHS has confirmed it is working with Microsoft, Palantir and Google to improve data analysis to make its anti-coronavirus effort more efficient and effective.
  • The Covid-19 outbreak has led to huge amounts of work for NHS Digital, shifting its priorities and creating unprecedented demand for products and data, but it has also had a positive impact, says CEO Sarah Wilkinson.
  • The NHSX contact-tracing app has been in live testing on the Isle of Wight for over a week now, and already we can make one important conclusion – a conclusion that was surely self-evident anyway.

Speaking to Computer Weekly during the coronavirus pandemic, NHS Digital CEO Sarah Wilkinson alluded to the same ideas. She explained that projects that would normally take months to be approved and deployed, would be complete in days, as during the crisis, there is only time to deliver, and not going “through extensive periods of contemplation”. She added that there would be a “different NHS” when we come out on the other side.

During his speech, Hancock said people “at all levels” have begged him never to go back to the way things were, and he promises that bureaucracy will not be returning.

He added that he has taken “stick for making technology one of the central issues for the NHS”, but that the pandemic has shown how “better technology leads to better healthcare”.

“We made it easier to link the primary care records of millions to the latest data on coronavirus,” he said. “Helping us to do the world’s largest analysis of coronavirus risk factors.

“This work normally would have taken years, but thanks to our new framework for processing data, it went from proposal to execution in just 42 days.”

Hancock added that naysayers are wrong when they say people don’t want to use technology. “Before coronavirus, there was a view advanced by some people that anyone over the age of 25 could not cope with anything other than a face-to-face to appointment,” he said.

“All I can say is thank God we didn’t listen to the naysayers and that NHS Digital, NHSX and NHS teams right across the country worked so hard on digital transformation.”

Phone and video consultations

Hancock also said phone and video consultations have been hugely successful during the pandemic, and that all consultations should now be “teleconsultations unless there’s a compelling reason not to”.

The NHS has also published its interim People Plan 2020-21, which includes plans for a new online learning hub that will cover training on new ways of working, such as remote consultations, remote triage and remote learning for colleagues being redeployed to other areas of the NHS.

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