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NHS Long Term Plan sets tech milestones

Health and care leaders have come together to develop a Long Term Plan to make the NHS fit for the future, and to get the most value for patients out of every pound of taxpayers’ investment.

The plan highlights technology as being instrumental in delivering on its ambitions and aims for the new NHS App to be a digital ‘front door’ to provide better access to digital tools and for patients to access the Summary Care Record. The plans set out the need for patient records to be available for staff, and improvements to the planning and delivery of services based on the analysis of patient and population data.

The plan states: “Over the next five years, every patient will have the right to online ‘digital’ GP consultations, and redesigned hospital support will be able to avoid up to a third of outpatient appointments – saving patients 30 million trips to hospital, and saving the NHS over £1 billion a year in new expenditure averted.”

There is also a focus to ensure clinicians can access and interact with patient records and care plans wherever they are, with ready access to decision support and AI, and without the administrative hassle of today. Where predictive techniques support local Integrated Care Systems to plan and optimise care for their populations. And where secure linked clinical, genomic and other data support new medical breakthroughs and consistent quality of care.

A key theme in the plan is interoperability: “The NHS is made up of hundreds of separate but linked organisations, and the burden of managing complex interactions and data flows between trusts, systems and individuals too often falls on patients and clinicians. Digital services and data interoperability give us the opportunity to free up time and resources to focus on clinical care and staying healthy.”

“In ten years’ time, we expect the existing model of care to look markedly different. The NHS will offer a ‘digital first’ option for most, allowing for longer and richer face-to-face consultations with clinicians where patients want or need it. Primary care and outpatient services will have changed to a model of tiered escalation depending on need. Senior clinicians will be supported by digital tools, freeing trainees’ time to learn. When ill, people will be increasingly cared for in their own home, with the option for their physiology to be effortlessly monitored by wearable devices. People will be helped to stay well, to recognise important symptoms early, and to manage their own health, guided by digital tools.”

The report also identifies clunky IT and the technology gap for tech to be fit for purpose “At present, too much of the technology in the NHS is a burden on our staff – slow to log in, clunky to use and unreliable in moments of crisis. We will ensure that health and care professionals have the tools they need to efficiently deliver safe and effective patient care, and require vendors to meet usability standards to match those we expect in the rest of our lives.”

The milestones set in the plan:

  • By 2020, five geographies will deliver a longitudinal health and care record platform linking NHS and local authority organisations, three additional areas will follow in 2021.
  • In 2020/21, people will have access to their care plan and communications from their care professionals via the NHS App; the care plan will move to the individual’s LHCR across the country over the next five years.
  • By summer 2021, we will have 100% compliance with mandated cyber security standards across all NHS organisations in the health and care system.
  • In 2021/22, we will have systems that support population health management in every Integrated Care System across England, with a Chief Clinical Information Officer (CCIO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO) on the board of every local NHS organisation.
  • By 2022/23, the Child Protection Information system will be extended to cover all health care settings, including general practices.
  • By 2023/24 every patient in England will be able to access a digital first primary care offer.
  • By 2024, secondary care providers in England, including acute, community and mental health care settings, will be fully digitised, including clinical and operational processes across all settings, locations and departments. Data will be captured, stored and transmitted electronically, supported by robust IT infrastructure and cyber security, and LHCRs will cover the whole country.

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive at NHS Digital, said “This plan offers a hugely exciting vision for the future of the NHS. We are particularly pleased that the plan recognises the extent to which new and improved technology and digital services can enable many of the goals set-out, all of which we whole-heartedly support.”

“Over the coming years we in NHS Digital, working closely with our partners across the system, will work to make digital access to health and care services as pervasive as it is now across other sectors. The sophistication of commodity technology services, the plethora of advances in health technology, the track-record of reliable delivery which we have quietly laid down over recent years, and the passion and commitment of this Secretary of State to transforming these capabilities combine to make this a time of enormous opportunity and potential.”

“A key focus of the technology and digital agenda, as with the plan overall, is allowing patients to better manage their own health and care. A broad spectrum of digital services will support individuals to take a much more proactive and responsible approach to monitoring their own health and well-being, enabling them to recognise their individual health risks and symptoms as early as possible, and manage their personal response to these risks. This, in turn, reduces the demand for health and care services.”

“We know how challenging it can be for organisations, particularly those under constant pressure to deliver critical services, to adopt new technology and digital systems. We are completely committed to supporting NHS organisations on all aspects of this journey from technical education, to integrating new technology into services and care pathways to the design of highly useable and accessible patient-facing solutions.”