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Digital transformation in NHS should be accelerated in response to Covid


By Carolyn Scott
25 November 2021

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Action on digital transformation of the NHS should now be accelerated, a review of the use of data and technology in the NHS has said.

The review, Putting data, digital and tech at the heart of transforming the NHS, published by DHSC this week (23 November), said that while progress has already been made, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic makes the need to push ahead on digital transformation even more pressing.

‘The extent of the changes envisaged by this report should not be under-estimated; they get to the heart of how the centre of the NHS operates, and critically the culture, skills and capabilities, incentives and operating processes in place,’ said the review.  

Improvement is needed in areas such as leadership – ‘with too few integrative leaders able to effectively bridge managerial, clinical and digital’ – and to remove organisational barriers, such as the current separation of responsibilities for digital strategy and infrastructure.

NHSEI needs to ‘transform the way it transforms’, says the review, with greater us of agile change methodologies, and building ‘real expertise in the art and science of transformation’.

Information systems need to be more joined up, ‘allowing patient information to more freely flow to the right clinicians’, and technology should be able to support the provision of more specialist care closer to people’s homes.

Recommendations from the review include:

  • Build patient’s trust and acceptance in the use of health data
  • Putting patient needs at the centre of decision-making and service design
  • Ensure digital equality in all service transformation
  • Revising financial management arrangements with the NHS, to support digital growth.

However, the ‘change management effort’ required to make progress will be ‘significant’, the review said.

Clinicians and management will also need to continue to engage with the public ‘in order to build understanding of the benefits of using data, both for individual patients and for local populations, and the safeguards in place to protect privacy and confidentiality,’ said the review.

Patient’s confidence in the use of health data has been low, and NHS Digital scrapped its 1 September deadline for its mass data grab, in favour of a three-point criteria system, following criticism.

In July, NHS users were reassured that they will be able to check who is accessing their patient data, NHS Digital said, with the establishment of a patient data register.

The review comes as a major reform combining NHS Digital and NHSX was announced to support digital transformation in the NHS.

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