New digital guidelines for NHS trusts

Digitise, connect, transform – NHSX unveils framework for transforming services

The new guidelines from NHSX will support NHS trusts in adopting and funding digital solutions that will help to advance care

NHSX has published new digital guidelines to support local NHS leaders and organisations to transform services for patients.

The guidance calls for patients to be able to digitally access their care plans and test results, for trusts to explore new ways of delivering care such as remote monitoring and consultations, and to improve care through the use of electronic prescribing systems.

The What Good Looks Like framework gives NHS managers clear, easy-to-use instructions on what they should be doing to use digital better in their services, and how they should be paying for it.

The pandemic has changed the way we all see digital technology – from connecting with our friends, family, and colleagues, to continuing to deliver care to the most vulnerable in the safest and most-effective way

It describes the common foundation that should be in place across the NHS, from using a secure digital infrastructure, to ensuring that digital systems are designed to meet the needs of their staff and patients.

And NHSX says the resources are an important step in continuing to digitise services and build on the progress made in adopting digital tools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidelines will be followed up with an assessment process to be outlined by NHSX later this year, so that NHS services can identify their gaps and prioritise areas for investment and improvement.

Saving lives

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Over the past 18 months we have all appreciated the immense value of technology.

“This is particularly true for the NHS, with digital technologies freeing up hospital beds and allowing clinicians to continue seeing patients remotely – and it will be invaluable in meeting other health challenges in the long-term.

This new guidance from NHSX provides a clear direction to all NHS trusts on how to drive digital transformation forward and transform organisations, which will improve patient care and save lives

“This new guidance from NHSX provides a clear direction to all NHS trusts on how to drive digital transformation forward and transform organisations, which will improve patient care and save lives.”

Minister for Innovation, Lord Bethell, adds: “The pandemic has changed the way we all see digital technology – from connecting with our friends, family, and colleagues, to continuing to deliver care to the most vulnerable in the safest and most-effective way.

“Using innovative technology to support people is not just limited to our response to COVID-19. It can transform the way we care for people with long-term conditions, detect cancer faster, and save clinicians valuable time, ultimately improving the care the NHS provides and saving lives.

“We are harnessing the potential of technology and supporting the NHS and organisations to drive real change with patients and staff at its heart.”

NHSX has also published a proposal for where the cost of digital transformation should fall.

It sets out a clear division of responsibility for technology funding and invites NHS organisations to help shape that plan.

NHSX is now engaging on Who Pays For What.

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said: “These two documents will give frontline leaders the essential guidance they need to plan their digital transformation.

Empowering the frontline

“They set out what they should be driving towards, and how they will need to pay for it.

“They have been produced following extensive consultations with the frontline, and will continue to change as we get more feedback.

Talking to leaders across the NHS, there is a renewed belief and confidence in the digital and data agenda and increasing awareness of the importance it holds in supporting a modern NHS

“They are designed to be helpful, empowering and clear.”

Sonia Patel, NHSX chief information officer, adds: “Talking to leaders across the NHS, there is a renewed belief and confidence in the digital and data agenda and increasing awareness of the importance it holds in supporting a modern NHS.

“I hope these resources are both empowering and enabling in terms of understanding the destination we commonly want to reach across the nation with digital transformation.”

The framework announcement has been welcomed by the health tech industry.

Richard Strong, managing director and vice president of Allscripts, told BBH: “This marks an important step forward in assisting healthcare providers move towards digital maturity, both internally and at ICS level.

“When considered jointly with ‘Who Pays For What’, I see a promising foundation being laid for the acceleration of digital healthcare in the UK.

“Additionally, with the date for the legislation of ICSs fast approaching, it is reassuring to see a focus on helping organisations become prepared.”

However, he warned that while the framework does a good job of explaining the ‘what’, suppliers and trusts will need to work together to deliver the ‘how’.

He adds: “The success measures, particularly those for ICSs, will rely on open, connected systems.

“However, the reference to open data in the framework is conspicuous by its absence, which I hope is not a sign of backtracking on the positive commitments laid out in the draft Data Saves Lives strategy.”

While these are simple, clear measures to help establish good practice, we would have liked the recommendations to have gone further in terms of setting the expectation around the new data policies, the separation of data, and taking ownership back from the vendors

And Matt Cox, managing director of Better UK and Ireland, said of the news: “While these are simple, clear measures to help establish good practice, we would have liked the recommendations to have gone further in terms of setting the expectation around the new data policies, the separation of data, and taking ownership back from the vendors - particularly when it comes to the recommendations in success measure 2 - smart foundations, which points to consolidation of contracts with a risk of shutting out innovation.

“This is also going to be vital when it comes to success measure 7, in which emphasis is placed on longitudinal data.

“In our view, this is an opportunity to build on the momentum from the draft Data Saves Lives strategy to refer directly to the importance of open data in enabling digital transformation in health and care.”

A switch of focus

NHSX is also bringing together multiple existing funding pots into one national application process, making it easier for local organisations to bid and for central bodies to ensure funding is allocated fairly.

And, in future years, the proposals would see a move away from national funding programmes, with funding for local technology spend allocated to integrated care systems (ICSs)

NHSX has already switched the focus of technology funding to supporting organisations to digitise more quickly.

Nearly 60 trusts are already benefiting from the NHSX Digital Aspirants programme. For example:

  • North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust has launched a digital portal for its Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service that brings together a wealth of information, advice, and guidance for mental health issues impacting on children and young people as well those involved in their lives
  • North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust with Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust initially focused on upgrading their network, infrastructure and WiFi. The organisations are now focused on integrating their electronic patient record systems so clinicians across both trusts can access the information they need

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