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28
Mar

Building a digitally enabled NHS


Stop harking on about the “clunky offerings of the past” and step up to digital transformation, Health Minister Nicola Blackwood told the audience at ‘Delving into Digital’ an event hosted by the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) this week (March 27).

 

She was referring to the various reactions of people to the launch of NHSX, which she describes as “a digital transformation team worthy of the task at hand.” Monitoring the response to the launch on social media – particularly twitter – she explains that the ‘techies’ love it, and sums their response up as “about bloody time”, but there is still wider resistance to it. “The wider public though (even some in the NHS if we’re honest) too often still see investment in healthtech as a zero sum game.”

 

Not only does the Minister urge that it is time to move on from the failings of the past, such as the National Programme for IT, because digital solutions have moved on by “light years” from those days. An attitude that does not welcome new technology and digital transformation is, she argues: “Contrary to the very foundations of research, development and innovation on which modern medicine is built.”

 

Technology is always a bit of a ‘Marmite’ subject - you either love it or hate it. “We are seeing pockets of simply brilliant digital innovation but, let’s be honest, some remaining pockets of reluctance,” says Nicola, adding, though, that she believes that situation is changing. 

 

The new unit, NHSX, will ‘go live’ in 12 days time and will, she says, play a vital role in driving forward the agenda to deliver real interoperability of health data and technology.  It will also bring together partners from across the health and care system to radically improve the digital provision and organisation of services.

 

Digital transformation is also driving progress in life sciences and research. Working with Health Data Research UK, Digital Innovation Hubs are being developed to make the NHS’s data assets radically more accessible and usable by researchers and innovators.

 

In May, Health Data Research UK will announce a final detailed specification and call for applicants to implement the regional hubs, and through the upcoming Spending Review the Minister says they will look to secure additional funding to advance this work.

 

Accelerating the development of innovative digital products is also on the agenda. “We have provided over £100 million to support the development and adoption of innovative healthcare products, including £35 million for the digital health technology catalyst.

 

“The catalyst has already supported small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop a huge range of innovative digital products, ranging from VR surgical training tools, through to ‘gaming’ technology to support the rehabilitation of patients in their own home. Round 4 of the competition is open until 10 April, and I strongly encourage you to get SMEs to apply.”

 

Rapid uptake of new technologies is a final initiative, to be encouraged and addressed through the Accelerated Access Collaborative. Under the chairmanship of Lord Darzi, this Collaborative will work as the umbrella organisation for UK health innovation, setting strategy and priorities, overseeing and co-ordinating funding and support and opening the door for innovators seeking to access the health system.

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