Insights

Richard Jones: 3 minute read

Digital Transformation is here

We all know and accept this. It is not something that we are fighting, quite the opposite in fact. Digital has transformed the manner in which we live our lives. We have access to everything we could ever need, from devices no bigger than a cup to self-driving cars. It is an age of enlightenment but one that has come rather late to the NHS.

Last month we talked about the digital torch that has been lit at the heart of the NHS by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. He is championing the digital revolution and casting aside of the chains of the past.

We wholeheartedly agree with the direction of travel that Mr. Hancock is taking. With this in mind, we were pleased to hear that a new unit is being created to oversee this digital transformation. Given the working name NHSX, the organisation will bring together the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement.

NHSX - The expectation

This new organisation will have “oversight” of NHS Digital.

Information that we are reporting here is based upon email correspondence picked up by Digital Health News. In addition to announcing the new unit, the email also states that the unit will be led by a new CEO.

NHS Digital’s Chief Executive, Sarah Wilkinson informed staff of the news via email, stating that she expects that NHSX will ‘define’ the future. The new unit will create lasting change and assume responsibility for a number of areas of work where NHS Digital had previously led. In the medium term she has said that as the new unit establishes itself there may be strategic shifts to the manner in which NHS Digital delivers its work;

We must continue to do everything we can to justify our privileged position as the prime digital, data and technology delivery partner for the NHS and to ensure we can meet what we expect to be an escalation in ambition and demand,” Ms. Wilkinson said.

The responsibilities of NHSX have been defined by the Department of Health and Social Care to be as follows. We expect this list to grow as time goes by:

  • Coordination and consistency
  • Setting standards
  • Driving implementation
  • Radical innovation
  • Common technologies and services
  • Reforming procurement
  • Cyber policy
  • Digital capability
  • Governance

NHSX - The reality

Within the UK‘s Health and Social Care landscape, real change is needed. However, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to consider history and unfortunately, neither new departments nor policy guarantee success on their own.

For the NHSX to have real impact (and not just be a branding exercise) the new standards it creates must have teeth. Too often Government policy is only advisory.

The individual who is placed as the head of NHSX will be required to report to the secretary of state for health and social care, the chief executives of NHS England and NHS Improvement, as well as the permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care. This is a wide circle in regards to reporting and can easily lead to the teeth of NHSX being sharpened down to a blunt state. To use an old proverb, too many cooks spoil the broth and we don’t want to see the money that will be shifted towards NHSX be wrapped up in discussions that produce no real change.

Use of pagers and fax machines still dominate the technology of the NHS and it will take years to get up to speed. The move towards digital will provide the biggest shake up in the history of the NHS. It needs firm management to ensure that the ship is steered in the correct direction. Our hope is that the oversight and reporting structure that will be thrust upon the CEO of NHSX will be flexible enough to embrace change.

Conclusion

Cloud Native, open platforms are the future of care systems in the UK. For the sake of the British public we believe they should be user designed, secure, cloud native and open. This is a point that is worth re-iterating as whilst technology can be seen as a costly necessity, in reality it is a firm friend.

The embracing of technical oversight led to the airline industry becoming one of the safest in the world. Statistics show that of the four billion plus passengers that flew by air in 2017, there was 50 fatalities. This equates to a fatality rate of 12.2 deaths per billion passengers, representing the safest year ever for aviation. What this boils down to is the fact that your chances of being involved in a catastrophic air crash were around one in 83 million. For additional perspective, the chances of winning the lottery are set at one in 45 million.

Technology cannot remove turbulence but it can dramatically increase the odds of you arriving at your destination safe and sound. The outlay for this technology may have been expensive but in the long run they have increased efficiency and reduced costs. The NHS needs to be bold in their quest to re-develop the digital infrastructure that underpins one of the world’s largest healthcare providers. Technology is the key to unlocking the NHS’ future through increased capacity and customer satisfaction.

The new standards that are agreed should be fully mandated and the barriers to procurement broken down to give the NHS the best system choice and the public the best lives possible.