Sajid Javid outlines NHS tech targets

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid announces priorities around digital transformation in the health service

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has announced the government’s priorities around driving digital transformation in the NHS, in areas such as personalised care and the roll-out of digital social care records.

Speaking at an industry event on 24 February, Javid outlined the objectives around driving a “more inclusive digital health service”, with a series of reforms intended to benefit patients and staff by helping to clear the Covid-19 backlog across the system and eventually reduce waiting lists.

Ambitions announced include the aim to have electronic patient records up (EPRs) and running or being implemented in 90% of NHS trusts by December 2023. In addition, the government wants to push for a full adoption of digital social care records, to tackle a reliance on paper-based processes – around 40% of providers still work entirely on a paper-based manner. “[I] want to see all social care providers adopt a digital social care record,” Javid said.

The expectation is that both digital transformation initiatives in health and social care will free up 23,000 hours of nursing time for care yearly, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

According to Javid, digital transformation in the health service has “seen brilliant progress” of late, but this has not been consistent across the system, noting that one in five trusts still do not have EPRs in place. “Electronic patient records are the essential prerequisite for a modern, digital NHS. Without them, we cannot achieve the full potential for reform,” the secretary said.

When it comes to personalised technologies, Javid noted that the government’s ambition is to get 75% of the adults in England to use the NHS App by March 2024. “To get there, we need to show people the app is for life, not just for Covid, and that it will be a future front door for interacting with the NHS,” he pointed out.

New features for the app are on the horizon, Javid said, focusing on areas such as showing patients estimated waiting times as well as blood test results within the app.

“The NHS app has shown how people are receptive to having healthcare literally in their hands – and we have the opportunity to use platforms like apps and websites to access diagnostics and therapies, helping them to manage their own conditions,” he added.

The government has consistently reported increases in uptake of the NHS App, and hit a 22 million user mark in January 2022. A spike in usage was prompted the addition of Covid-19 vaccine status – also known as a vaccine passport – which was first announced at the end of April 2021 despite widespread privacy concerns.

Javid also talked about his plans to use NHS data to drive innovation, building on work during the pandemic to develop diagnostics and treatment for Covid-19.

“NHS data is making the whole world safer and healthier,” the health secretary said. “Thanks to this country’s single national health service, the NHS has a precious resource in the form of data that can offer so much insight to pioneers in the life sciences, including some of the world’s largest genomic datasets.”

Under NHS Digital’s General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) data-sharing plan, for example, the government proposed the data gathered from GPs could be used for resource and care planning purposes, research into some of the UK’s biggest killers such as cancer and heart disease, and Covid-19. A public backlash against the initiative ensued, with more than a million people exercising their right to opt out of the scheme.

Javid acknowledged that “there is more to do to build trust in the use of data and reassure the public that the data will be used securely”. He suggested that the government could do this by making it smoother and safer for researchers to access and use data through requiring the use of trusted research environments. This, according to the DHSC, would ensure that patient data is protected “to the highest standard”.

Looking ahead, the health secretary also said a digital health plan is on the horizon. To be published later in 2022, a report will build on lessons learned during the pandemic and aim to drive change on the digital health front.

According to a recent National Audit Office report, work carried out by the NHS around the development of digital platforms and use of data and digital innovation was among the key success factors behind the achievements of the Covid-19 vaccination programme to date.

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