The Government is planning to make more than £200 million available to a group of NHS trusts to boost the development of digital technology for healthcare, along with the publication of new standards to promote the interoperability of systems.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock announced the funding, along with the creation of a HealthTech Advisory Board and news of a pilot for a new health service app for patients.
He said the money will be invested to help trusts create digital testbeds and develop into internationally recognised centres for technological and digital innovation.
It will support new global digital exemplars in acute, mental health, community and ambulance trusts in England to set a standard of innovation for other services to follow.
Hancock said the HealthTech Advisory Board, chaired by Dr Ben Goldacre, will report directly back to him, highlighting where changes are needed, where best practice is not being followed, and act as an ideas hub for improving patient outcomes.
He also criticised the performance of existing digital systems in the NHS, saying that the wrong approach was taken with the National Programme for IT in the 2000s and that a new approach is needed. This should involve avoiding the creation of a national database and trying to procure systems centrally.
Instead there should be an emphasis on allowing NHS organisations to procure their own systems while ensuring they are able to talk to each other.
“Where it’s been successful elsewhere, the centre has imposed strict, mandated, open standards for interoperability of systems,” he said. “In English: only systems that talk to each other can be used. So this is what we’re going to do in the NHS.”
He said that in the coming weeks the Department for Health and Social Care will publish “robust standards” for IT systems in the NHS.
“No system will be allowed to be bought that does not meet these standards,” he said. “Existing systems will have to be upgraded to meet them.
“The standards will be simple, setting out the APIs that allow for the right people to interrogate other systems for data. They’ll set out the standards of permissions required, and the privacy and cyber security requirements.
“The standards will be open, so that anyone can see them, and anyone writing code for use in the NHS knows what the standards are before they start.
“Standards of interoperability, privacy and security complement each other.”
The new app will be piloted in five areas in England from next month - Liverpool, Hastings, Bristol, Staffordshire and South Worcestershire - ahead of a national roll out in December.
Patients in the areas will be able to download a test version that provides access to: booking GP appointments; ordering repeat prescriptions; their medical records; 111 online access for urgent medical queries; data sharing preferences; organ donation preferences; and end-of-life care preferences.
Hancock suggested there will be more to come, citing research that most 16-24 year-olds would prefer to receive GP advice online or via an app than face-to-face.
“We must respond to this change in expectations,” he said. “This is just the beginning of the process.
“Patients who want to will feel the benefits of being able to access services through their fingertips, rather than needing to pick up the phone or physically walk into a GP surgery. It is a big step in making the NHS resemble the rest of the modern world around us.”
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0
Amended morning of 7.9.18 on publication of full Hancock speech by DHSC