Digital NHS

NHS digitalisation rated ‘inadequate’ by expert panel

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A new report has said that the UK government's progress towards improving the digital capabilities of the NHS was too slow and often lacked support and funding.

The government is making “inadequate” progress on its commitment to digitise the NHS and social care, according to a report from a panel of independent experts.

The panel was created by the Health and Social Care Select Committee of MPs to measure the progress made in the government's digitalisation efforts against a range of commitments made in a 2022 policy paper.

These commitments included boosting the use of the official NHS App as a way of allowing people to access more personalised care, as well as manage their health more independently.

However, the expert panel’s report rated the government’s progress as either requiring improvement or inadequate in several of these areas. 

“What is particularly disappointing is that the government recognises that the digitisation of the NHS is essential to bring about real benefits to patients, for example by helping them to monitor and manage long-term health conditions independently," said Professor Dame Jane Dacre, chair of the expert panel. 

“Yet time and again, promises have been made but not delivered, hampering wider progress."

One of the commitments that were rated as "inadequate" was the government's pledge to boost the use of data sharing to improve research and planning. Other areas given this rating included the commitment to deliver integrated health and care records for all patients and improving workforce digital literacy.

“Worryingly, we have seen no clear plan for how the government will address public and provider concerns regarding sharing personal data, which is crucial to address in order for this to be successful," Dacre added. 

“We heard about issues with interoperability between systems and providers, making it difficult for all parts of the system to communicate effectively, leading to delays and efficiency losses."

Another of the causes named as the reason for the delay was the challenges in recruiting, retaining and building the specialised digital workforce. However, the report blamed the lack of a strategy focused on delivering a digital workforce.

“The aspirations to transform the NHS, supported by the right digital foundations, are to be applauded; however our report finds evidence mainly of opportunities missed,” Dacre said. 

The panel said the government’s work required improvement in the rollout of the NHS App, the use of patient data for research and planning and its work around the purchasing of digital technologies.

Steve Brine MP, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said: “These important findings by our panel of experts will support the work of the Health and Social Care Committee which is currently examining digital transformation in the NHS.

“Integration of the NHS with social care services is vital so it is concerning that these care settings appear to be frequently overlooked.

“The panel’s detailed work provides evidence of the government’s overall ‘inadequate’ approach to its commitments to digitise the NHS and will feed into the committee’s work, shaping the recommendations we make to ministers.”

Last month, the government announced it had granted £800,000 to 16 research projects planning to use existing health data records and artificial intelligence to help alleviate the health service's winter pressures.

These investments would come on top of the £500 million Discharge Fund announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement for cutting bed occupancy, reducing ambulance handover times and increasing capacity in social care.

In July, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) published a new plan to digitalise health and social care services that aimed to see the widespread adoption of digital health records and help patients contact GPs via the NHS app.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the goal was to channel “the spirit of innovation” that led to the rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines. 

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