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Report identifies ‘inadequate’ progress in NHS digitisation


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Inadequate progress has been made on key commitments to digitise the NHS, according to an independent panel of experts convened by Parliament.

The Health and Social Care Committee has published a report on the issue by the expert panel, saying that commitments on workforce and the use of patient information were either not met or not on track to be met. It includes a consideration of social care, saying it is intrinsically linked to NHS digitisation.

The panel found that overall progress towards improving digital capabilities was too slow and often lacked support and funding. Social care in particular has often missed out in commitments, stifling progress across the health and care system.

The panel has expressed concerns that ambitions to digitise the NHS will not succeed without an effective workforce strategy to train, recruit and retain sufficient specialised staff.

Undelivered promises

Chair of the panel Professor Dame Jane Dacre said: “What is particularly disappointing is that the Government recognises that the digitisation of the NHS is essential to bring about real benefits to patients, for example by helping them to monitor and manage long term health conditions independently.

“Yet time and again, promises have been made but not delivered, hampering wider progress. For example, using data sharing to improve research and planning, which we’ve rated as inadequate.  However, worryingly, we have seen no clear plan for how the Government will address public and provider concerns regarding sharing personal data, which is crucial to address in order for this to be successful.

“We heard about issues with interoperability between systems and providers, making it difficult for all parts of the system to communicate effectively, leading to delays and efficiency losses.”

“Evidence also highlights challenges in recruiting, retaining and building the specialised digital workforce, yet Ministers have delayed a strategy focused on delivering a digital workforce.   

“The aspirations to transform the NHS, supported by the right digital foundations, are to be applauded, however, our report finds evidence mainly of opportunities missed.”     

Need for improvement

The report provides ratings for progress on nine commitments across four policy areas: care of patients and people in receipt of social care; health of the population; cost and efficiency of care; and digital literacy of the workforce. It says that overall it has been inadequate, with even the better ones requiring improvement.

Common issues include slow progress towards national interoperability, the poor digital maturity of some providers – especially in social care – insufficient planning around the accessibility of digital products, a need to get more social care providers to enable electronic records, and a shortage of staff with technical skills.

It also highlights that the Government’s digitisation plans have frequently overlooked social care services and settings, and that national standards relating to the NHS often do not apply to social care.

The report adds that it has not so far been possible to assess the effect of the merger of NHS England and NHS Digital on the overall progress.

Poor uptake 

The panel’s findings prompted agreement by the Professional Records Standards Body (PRSB). Its chief executive officer, Lorraine Foley, said: “PRSB agrees with the expert panel findings that poor uptake of standards and interoperability is holding the NHS and social care back from digital sharing of care records. Our chair, Professor Maureen Baker, was a member of the panel which reached these conclusions.

“Information sharing is vital to good care and without it patient safety is threatened and so is the quality of care that health and care teams can deliver. 

“PRSB plays an essential role in developing standards that enable interoperability, and promoting their use with health and care providers and IT system suppliers through solutions such as our highly regarded Standards Partnership Scheme. Our continued ability to do this is critical if we are to address the challenges that the panel rightly identifies.”

The report has been produced independently of the Health and Social Care’s inquiry into the issue but may feed into it.


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