18th March 2022
Accelerating the pace of digital transformation is key to Sajid Javid’s NHS reform ambitions
Can you remember the last time you bought an airline ticket from a travel agent? Or when you last made a money transfer using a paper bank giro at the bank? Digital technologies have not only changed our lives; they’ve changed our entire perception of what is ‘normal’.
While this is true for practically every aspect of our daily lives, it is less the case where it comes to healthcare. The NHS has, in recent years, made huge strides in its digital journey, accelerated in no small part by the pandemic. But we still have a way to go, as the Health Secretary Sajid Javid himself acknowledged in a recent speech at the Royal College of Physicians:
“Health needs to embrace the revolutions that have already come to banking and shopping – it needs to be as easy for doctors and patients to order a blood test as it is to order a burger – or a salad - on your phone.”
Laying out his reform agenda for the NHS, the Health Secretary focused on three core areas: Prevention, Personalisation and Performance. Behind each of these Ps lies a major body of work which will require significant spending and a substantial change to the status quo. But taken together, the common denominator for success is clear – digital transformation.
Let’s start with prevention. Sajid Javid aims to “hardwire prevention into the NHS.” This is a laudable ambition, supported by an eye-catching array new initiatives ranging from ‘Community Diagnostics Centres’ to an ‘Office for Health Improvement and Disparities’. At a more fundamental level however, the key to prevention is data. The new Integrated Care Systems (ICS) which bring together the NHS, local authorities and third sector bodies, will unlock a wealth of crucial data which will drive better, smarter decision-making. As my colleague Tracey Cotterill recently explained, the UK’s move towards integrated care systems presents a huge opportunity to build a proactive approach to healthcare based on insights gleaned from many different data sources.
But high-quality data alone won’t deliver effective prevention; you must also have the right digital tools to crunch that data and people with the right skills to make the best use of it. And if we even look beyond healthcare for a moment, to supporting wider societal and environmental outcomes, then this data must be shared – securely – with other public bodies.
From reliable, real-time patient data at the click of a button, to paperless meal ordering in hospitals, we’re already seeing real-world examples of how digital technologies are creating a more personalised healthcare experience right across our health and care services. But this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible. Digital technologies could transform healthcare for patients and clinicians alike, enabling better patient/clinician communication, earlier intervention, and smarter treatment options. As with prevention, the key lies in high-quality data and the ability to harness it effectively.
From procurement to patient records, our health services need to be a constantly well-oiled machine to deliver the best outcomes for patients. Against a backdrop of budgetary pressures, Covid-related backlogs and public health challenges like obesity, this is an increasingly difficult task. However, smart technologies and the introduction of Machine Learning and AI have huge potential to alleviate these pressures and allow hospitals and other parts of the NHS to concentrate precious people and resources where they are needed most.
The digital journey
I’m deeply encouraged to see the strong focus placed on digital transformation in the Health Secretary’s NHS agenda. But we must remember that digital transformation goes beyond solving the individual healthcare challenges we face today. It’s a much wider journey towards a future where our health & care services are better, smarter, safer and more responsive to the changing needs of patients and the wider community.
Steve Brain is Executive Director (Health & Care) at Civica