Government publishes Digital Health and Care Plan
Announced earlier this year by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care at the HSJ Digital Transformation Summit, the Government has now published the Digital Health and Care Plan. This follows the publication of Data Saves Lives: Reshaping Health and Social Care with Data.
It is fantastic to see continued commitment from the Government to accelerate the adoption of digital technology across the NHS and social care. Digital health and care technologies not only help improve efficiency, freeing up NHS staff time, improve convenience and outcomes for patients, but are central to tackling the elective care backlog following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Plan works to consolidate existing funding commitments, strategies, and pledges that have been made across the Health and Care Bill, draft standards and interoperability Strategy, the Data saves lives document, and elsewhere, providing a one-stop-shop for digital promises in the NHS pipeline.
Guiding ICSs to help accelerate digital transformation, the recognition that the NHS must “use our regulatory levers to signal that digitisation is a priority, identify the non-negotiable standards of digital capability, and explain how we will monitor and support compliance”, is a welcome resolve.
In particular, we are pleased to see the following areas receive attention in the Plan. techUK has been working on these issues, among others, with NHS Digital and NHSX, and more recently in collaboration with the Transformation Directorate, for some time.
- Interoperability & standards
Among other important promises, the Plan pledges to clarify which technical and data standards the digital health and technology sector should prioritise, which techUK has been calling for, including in the publication of our flagship report the Ten Point Plan for Healthtech from February 2021 and our most recent response to the draft standards and interoperability strategy from the Transformation Directorate. As outlined in the document, making clear what the ‘must do’ standards are and whice ones are the ‘nice to have’ will help industry plan and prepare accordingly, understanding what they have to deliver.
The plan also outlines that the forthcoming Data Reform Bill will make changes to the Health and Social Care Act 2012, including a power to apply technical standards to suppliers of IT systems and services equivalent to those applied to health and social care providers. techUK will seek to continue to work with the teams responsible to ensure that the work being done fosters an innovative marketplace ultimately accelerating deployment of products and services across health and care and delivering benefits to patients. To find out more about techUK’s stance on interoperability, you can read our response to the draft standards and interoperability strategy here.
- Digital maturity & Integrated Care Systems (ICSs)
The move to place ICSs on statutory footing as of July 1st 2022 is an exciting transition. techUK have been working with members and stakeholders across the country from social care, local authority, and within NHS to identify some of the issues and opportunities this may create for innovators.
The Plan recognises the importance of establishing a core level of digital maturity across the country, and pledges to not only help guide all ICSs towards required levels of digital maturity by 2025, but to help them go further. To do so, it states that digital transformation needs to be embedded in oversight arrangements for all ICSs, a welcome addition.
To make and sustain the progress we expect over the next 3 years, we need to include our expectations of digital transformation in oversight arrangements for trusts and ICSs.
Similarly, with more granular information and understanding of the populations they serve, health and social care providers are co-designing and delivering services that better respond to people's needs in the right place at the right time, through multiple channels.
- Taking a partnership approach
techUK have long called for industry to be considered and treated as true partners of the NHS. We therefore strongly welcome the commitment to support and systematise good partnership practice between NHS trusts and innovators. This will be instrumental in the spread of technologies proven to improve patient outcomes across the NHS.
The Plan also focusses on systematising tech R&D partnerships, helping innovators and frontline teams to collaborate, and supporting best practice partnerships between tech innovators and frontline teams. This is crucial to making the UK an attractive place for innovators in the health and care ecosystem, a core goal of techUK.
- Improved procurement practises
It is great to see that the Plan examines how the NHS can improve the current approach to buying digital health technologies. In particular, the emphasis on the need to improve existing methods of scaling digital products, with reference to the work of both NICE and the MHRA, is welcome.
The Plan sets out that NICE will pilot a new Early Value Assessment (EVA) through summer and autumn of 2022, initially focused on cardiovascular and mental health products. This process will streamline evaluation of evidence for the clinical and cost effectiveness of products that address NHS priorities, making these products available for local procurement via a single national framework. Products that pass the bar at the full assessment stage may be approved for wider use in the NHS.
techUK welcomes the publication of the Digital Health and Social Care Plan and the ambitious vision it sets out. We know that digital, data and technology will play a key role in the long-term transformation of health and care, and industry stands ready to help accelerate the development and deployment of products and services for the benefits of patients, citizens and the wider system. techUK and its members contributed to the Plan earlier this year and we commend the engagement undertaken by NHS England in drafting the document. We’re long past the point where technology needs to show the potential it has to transform delivery of services, and now need to build on the work done during COVID-19 to deliver the vision outlined today. The document rightly states that strong partnerships between industry, the NHS, and social care will help tech spread faster and in a way that supports citizens and staff, and this is exactly what we need to see to ensure the UK continues to be an attractive market for companies of all sizes and new entrants into the market. Working together in a transparent and collaborative manner will help us create solutions that address the biggest challenges facing the NHS and social care, now and in the future.
Leontina Postelnicu, Head of Health & Social Care
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