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ICB leaders need more headspace to meet mandate’s digital targets

ICB leaders need more headspace to meet mandate’s digital targets
By Jess Hacker
20 June 2023

The Government should consider the capacity and headspace digital transformation will require of health leaders, particularly given cuts to ICB running costs, the NHS Confederation has warned.

It comes in response to a series of digital targets reissued by the Government in its 2023 mandate to the NHS.

The new targets set out an expectation for ICBs to implement the national cyber strategy for health and social care and take up the new federated data platform as and when it is released, as flagged in the Government’s response to the Hewitt review.

Health leaders have welcomed the renewed push, citing that it would ‘reduce the administrative burden on staff’, but warned that overseeing the transformation on a large scale would place significant pressure on leaders’ capacity, particularly given the push to make efficiency savings.

The NHS Confederation warned it would ‘continue to emphasise the need to consider the capacity and headspace’ that digital transformation requires, particularly ‘in light of the recent reduction in ICBs’ running cost allowances and a shortfall in capital investment in the service’.

Earlier this year, NHS England subjected ICBs to a 30% real terms reduction per ICB by 2025/26, adding that it expected at least 20% to be delivered in 2024/25.

Leaders have also welcomed the smaller number of national targets set out in the new mandate, published 15 June, with key targets for elective backlog recovery, emergency care waiting times and cancer care remaining in place.

In his forward to the document, health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘The health system has asked for fewer targets, and this is what I have set out. It is a shorter document than the previous mandate – a deliberate choice which both emphasises the government’s commitment to deliver on the key concerns of the public and recognises the importance of allowing integrated care systems the freedom to deliver effectively.’

Targets include:

  • Offering a GP appointment to all patients who need a one within two weeks, or within one day for urgent needs
  • 95% of patients needing a diagnostic test should receive it within six weeks by March 2025
  • Introducing 5,000 more beds for next winter as part of the permanent bed base, and 800 new ambulances on the road
  • Using the Better Care Fund to scale intermediate care capacity.

Responding to the mandate, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘The core objectives are sensible and already being worked towards by leaders, who continue to go above and beyond in efforts to cut waiting lists and recover performance.

‘Levelling up the NHS’s digital maturity and infrastructure is important for it to be fit for the future and will not only reduce the administrative burden on staff but provide real opportunities to improve patient care through the use of new technologies.’

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