DHSC reluctant to confirm details of digital delivery review

Sajid Javid heightens expectations around Wade-Gery review at NHS conference, but health department is unable to say when it might be delivered

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) is still reluctant to confirm details of a review of digital delivery carried out by new NHS Digital chief Laura Wade-Gery and first mooted over a year ago.

Speaking at the closing of the NHS Providers annual conference, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid talked about his future vision for the NHS, including driving “a strong sense of direction, clear lines of accountability and looking at whether the NHS has what it needs to deliver this vital change”.

Javid then used the example of digital leadership in the NHS to illustrate his point, while heightening expectations around the Wade-Gery review, commissioned by DHSC. Carried out by consulting firm McKinsey, the high-level review is focused on the digital responsibilities of the various NHS agencies.

Javid said: “Although we’ve seen phenomenal work on digital transformation during this pandemic from so many people, it does strike me as odd that digital leadership is currently split across NHSE, NHSX and NHS Digital. And this is something that Laura Wade-Gery is looking at in her review.”

Contacted by Computer Weekly for updates on the review and when will it end, a DHSC spokesperson said: “There are no further announcements regarding Laura Wade-Gery’s review at this moment in time.”

News on the digital delivery review became known in October 2020. According to news reports at the time, the review, carried out at a cost of £600,000 to taxpayers, was initially estimated as a seven-week effort but was then delayed.

A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report released in November 2020 slammed the plans to bring together responsibility for policy, implementation and change in digital, data and technology across the health service in England, the premise under which NHSX was created in 2019.

According to the PAC report, there was still no clear implementation plan for how these ambitions will be delivered and that governance and accountability arrangements “are both overly complex and insufficiently funded”. It added that there is a lack of clarity over the roles of NHSX and NHS Digital, which often overlap, leading to confusion.

The health service’s digital unit does not have to prepare financial statements for audit and there is little transparency over its spending because it is not a statutory body.

In February, government plans to make NHSX part of a new NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) “transformation directorate” emerged, less than two years after the digital unit was established.

The plans, still subject to approval by DHSC and HM Treasury, are billed as a way to ensure better collaboration and ensure digital transformation work is not siloed.

NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould said at the time: “The proposal would do what we in NHSX have been advocating and demonstrating – taking digital out of its silo and putting it at the heart of the NHS and social care.

“Our work carries on. NHSX will continue to champion digital transformation as a joint unit of DHSC and NHS England, and no functions are transferring out of NHSX or back to the department.”

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