Achieving a digital NHS: lessons for national policy from the acute sector

Health Big data Public health Innovation National Health Service (NHS) Health data United Kingdom

Creating a digital NHS is a national policy priority. It promises to improve the quality of care, reduce duplication, drive efficiencies, empower patients and support joined-up services. The NHS Long Term Plan emphasised national policy’s commitment to the digital agenda and promised fully digitised secondary care services by 2024. This follows a host of other policy and funding initiatives in recent years, totalling national investment of over £4 billion since 2016.

Now the establishment of a new organisation to lead national policy for NHS technology, digital and data has been announced. NHSX will bring together digital leaders from NHS England, NHS Improvement, and the Department of Health and Social Care to lead on setting standards for technology use, championing and developing digital training and ensuring NHS systems can talk to each other across the health and care system. This is a clear sign of continued commitment to creating a digital NHS – including from the Secretary of State.

In this environment, we sought to understand how national policy for digitisation is working from the perspective of acute trusts. We wanted to know:

  • How national policy impacted on a trust’s approach to digitisation
  • How national policy was helping and hindering digital progress
  • What national policy could do differently to better support digitisation on the ground.

In order to answer these questions, we spoke to 72 senior digital leaders in national organisations and NHS trusts as well as frontline health care professionals. We used the latest digital maturity assessment (DMA) data to sample trusts based on their digital capability. This report has a number of suggestions for national bodies. Many of these are likely to be most relevant to NHSX as it is considering how to fulfil its new role to best effect. However, given the uncertainty about how NHSX will operate in practice, we have resisted naming specific organisations. What’s more, given the fast pace of change in this area, we have focused on broad policy lessons rather than recommendations for specific policies or policy instruments. At a time when the organisational approach to national digital policy is being refined, this report provides insight into where energy can most usefully be invested. We outline a summary of our key findings, alongside a series of learning points for national organisations.

Related Information

The NHS long term plan

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