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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced it will integrate NHSX and NHS Digital into NHS England and Improvement (NHSE/I) as part of a major workforce planning and technology-led exercise.
Under the reform, NHS Digital will become the health services CIO directorate, while NHSX will act as the strategy function of the transformation directorate, with the body responsible for the education and training of the health workforce, Health Education England, also set to be merged into NHSE/I.
According to DHSC, this is part of the review carried out by NHS Digital chair Laura Wade-Gery, who recommended the merger, billed as a way to improve care, centralise the NHS workforce and accelerate service digitisation.
“Digital and workforce are central to transforming the NHS to tackle the backlog and recover services after the Covid pandemic, as well as delivering on our Long Term Plan commitments and maintain momentum of the lifesaving NHS Covid vaccination programme, all while looking after thousands of patients in hospital with the virus,” said NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard. “By coming together in this way, the whole health service can continue progress in delivering these goals.”
DHSC said the advice set out in the review was accepted by health secretary Sajid Javid, without outlining further details about the recommendations provided. “To ensure our record NHS investment makes a lasting impact, I am bringing workforce planning and digital transformation into the heart of the NHS,” said Javid. “These reforms will support our recovery from Covid-19 and help us tackle waiting lists to give patients excellent care in years to come.”
Sajid Javid, secretary of state for Health and Social Care
According to Wade-Gery, the goal of her review is to equip the national centre with the right capability to support integrated care systems to deliver better citizen health.
“We need to have the culture, operating model, skills, capabilities and processes to put data, digital and technology at the heart of how we transform health services,” she noted.
According to DHSC, the NHS and social care sectors have made significant inroads in their digital technology efforts over the years. The department noted NHSX had “fulfilled its mandate” in terms of digital transformation in the health system.
Commenting on the decision, NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould said the digital delivery unit set up in 2019 “has been making the case for digital transformation in the NHS, and for digital to be integrated within the NHS rather than kept in its own silo”.
“This reorganisation is the culmination of that campaign. It is an excellent step – a more coherent structure that will allow us to accelerate digital transformation across health and care,” he added.
The merger has been on the cards since February, amid concerns over a lack of clarity over the roles of NHSX and NHS Digital.
As part of the reform, DHSC will establish a data-driven digital delivery unit to sit within the existing NHS delivery unit to “help government better understand the blockers to recovering NHS services following the pandemic and how they can be overcome”.
According to NHS Digital interim chief executive Simon Boulton, the work carried out by his organisation has made a “real and valuable impact for the public” in terms of managing the pandemic.
“Now we will build on this progress as one organisation, accelerating the digitally enabled transformation of the NHS and improving it, both for its staff and the people it serves at the time they are most in need,” he noted.