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Hunt announces funding of up to £120m to fast-track NHS digital excellence

Twelve trusts will receive up to £10m each to become “global exemplars” and pioneer new approaches to digital services in the NHS

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised funding of up to £10m each to 12 NHS trusts which have been selected to become centres of digital excellence.

Hunt will also establish an academy “dedicated to training NHS staff in digital skills”. Universities will be invited to host the academy, which aims to train NHS professionals to deliver digital healthcare.

The funding will mainly be used for technology and infrastructure, but also to improve training for staff and “encourage a new generation of chief clinical information officers”.

The funding was originally announced by NHS England in August 2016, with £100m up for grabs and 10 trusts getting £10m each; however the number has now been raised to 12.

Only acute trusts at an advanced stage of using digital technologies were allowed to apply, with 26 trusts fitting the criteria selected by NHS England.

Those that have been successful include Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, which went live with its open source OpenMaxims electronic patient record system in 2015; University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust; and Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust

In due course, NHS England plans to establish centres across the health and care sector, and a second round of funding will also be made available to another 20 trusts, which will receive an “intensive programme of support” from the academy and up to £5m each.

Hunt said that the Department of Health wants to “fast-track existing digital excellence, as well as nurture new skills and expertise that we will need to deliver a new breed of digitised services.”

“This means on the one hand giving pioneering NHS organisations the financial backing to unleash their full potential, while also making sure that we can build a digitally confident workforce across the whole NHS,” he said.

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The news comes after Robert Wachter launched his delayed review of technology in the NHS.

The review, which was originally due to be released in June 2016, but was delayed due to the EU referendum, aims to inform the English health and care system’s approach to further implementation of IT – particularly the use of electronic health records and other digital systems in the acute sector, with the aim of achieving a paper-free health service by 2020.

Hunt also announced the re-launch of an NHS England apps library, which will feature NHS-approved health apps, after the last library was closed in October 2015. This was shortly after a study – co-authored by researchers from Imperial College London – revealed that several NHS-approved apps were leaking data about their users, as reported by Computer Weekly.  

The new apps library will also feature advice on wearable devices to ensure the public make the right choices when choosing products to monitor their health.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Public Health England and NHS Digital have also worked on an endorsement model to kitemark approved health apps. However, it’s unclear if this is the model that will be used by NHS England to approve apps for the library.

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