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Health secretary sets out plans for digital transformation

Addressing NHS Expo 2018 last week, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, outlined how he intends to drive digital transformation across the NHS. “It is an immediate priority of mine to sort out the technology of the NHS and social care systems,” he said.


“Now is the moment to put the failures of the past behind us, and set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier, and make money go further, harnessing the amazing explosion of innovation that the connection of billions of minds through digital technology has brought to this world.”


The Health Secretary set out a six-part plan and promised to lead from the front on the crucial element of culture change, which is, he said, the biggest challenge to digital transformation. He announced the creation of a new HealthTech Advisory Board to be chaired by Dr Ben Goldacre, reporting directly to him. The Board will consist of tech experts, clinicians and academics. 


“It will highlight where change needs to happen, where best practice isn’t being followed and be an ideas hub for how we transform the NHS to improve patient outcomes, patient experience, and to make the lives of NHS staff easier.”

He stressed the importance of data compatibility across the health and care system and announced that in the coming weeks robust standards would be published that IT systems must meet if they’re to be bought by anyone in the NHS.


“No system will be allowed to be bought that does not meet these standards. Existing systems will have to be upgraded to meet them. The standards will be simple, setting out the APIs that allow for the right people to interrogate other systems for data. They’ll set out the standards of permissions required, and the privacy and cyber security requirements. The standards will be open, so that anyone can see them, and anyone writing code for use in the NHS knows what the standards are before they start.”


Matt Hancock also announced an allocation of £200 million for the next round of Global Digital Exemplars to help Trusts to build in-house capacity to lead the design and delivery of IT solutions.


“Out with the big service contracts. In with more agile in-house teams that can be smarter at contracting. I don’t want to see any more the automatic knee-jerk response to an IT problem of engaging big consultancies to tell us what the problem is, offer to sell us the solution, and then mark their own homework.”


There was a stark warning to suppliers as well. “I’ve been appalled at some of the tales of blockages, especially in providers of systems for primary care. We are going to be extremely robust with any supplier who doesn’t live up to the new standards we are mandating. I want all our existing suppliers to come with us on this journey. But if you don’t want to come on this journey, you won’t be supplying IT to the NHS.”


In return, suppliers can expect a framework that supports innovation and allows innovators and technology companies to thrive so they can meet user needs and to support the uptake and adoption of the best of those services. “We need to work unceasingly to nurture that ecosystem so HealthTech innovators feel supported and can see our commitment to them, and their ground-breaking discoveries.”


NHS teams themselves will also be encouraged to develop solutions, working with wider industry. One example is the NHS app that the Health Secretary confirmed would be available nationally from the end of the year. This app will enable patients to book GP appointments, access the NHS 111 service and view their GP record.


Embedding the right skills across the NHS workforce as well as the right tools is the final part of the six-part plan. Matt Hancock wants all staff to be able to innovate and realize the benefits that technology will provide. 


“I want every Trust Board and STP leadership team to drive this, and ensure this transformation happens. Driven only by an enthusiastic IT Department reporting to the CFO it will fail. Owned by the whole organisation, the Board, the Chief Executive, and the clinical leadership, and the opportunities to improve our NHS are huge. And you have the support of the National Leadership of the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care to make it happen.”


Click here to read the full speech.