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New NAO report calls for investment to match digital NHS vision

In the last few weeks, we have witnessed a significant increase in the deployment and use of digital tools and systems across the health service in England in an effort to cope with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But a newly-published report from the National Audit Office (NAO), prepared before the crisis, has found that the digital transformation of the NHS remains a “huge challenge” due to the large-scale process, cultural change and financial investment needed to make it happen.

Legacy IT systems and complex governance arrangements pose further barriers, as less than 2% of trusts’ expenditure is reportedly allocated to technology, according to estimates from NHS England and Improvement.

The NAO has cautioned that plans currently in the works are based on “very limited cost data”, and that changing national strategies have led to a “fragmented environment which makes achieving current ambitions more challenging”. 

“To meet their aims, the Department and its arms-length bodies should resolve the governance and accountability issues and major technical challenges that have hampered progress in improving digital services in the NHS. The NAO recommends that these organisations need to have a better understanding of the funding required to meet their ambitions. National governance arrangements should be simplified and strengthened, and digital maturity assessments of local organisations should be used to gather important information,” according to the report.

Recommendations for the Department of Health and Social Care and arm’s-length bodies include:

  • Creating an implementation plan with clear objectives and measurable actions for the upcoming technology plan for health and care
  • Collecting further data to understand the full cost of enabling digital transformation and what would need to be prioritised
  • Maintaining a “comprehensive set of lessons” from previous NHS and wider government experience.

The full report, for which techUK was also interviewed, can be seen here.

Digital transformation in the NHS

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