At HTN Digital Primary Care 2021, we welcomed Katherine Church, Chief Digital Officer at Surrey Heartlands CCG to discuss the organisation’s approach to digital primary care.
Katherine started the presentation by providing the audience with some context to her role, and her responsibilities as Chief Digital Officer: “My role is really to think about and scale those digital and data projects that bring us together across the silos of our organisations. It’s to really deliver scale, digital, clinical and operational transformation for our citizens and the benefits of clinicians.”
Katherine is relatively new to the NHS and the public sector, and assumed her current role only 18 months ago, just before the pandemic started. Reflecting on that, she said: “I’ve never known the NHS in anything other than a COVID state. What I’ve seen in the early few months of my career in the NHS is that digital is clearly so important and the NHS absolutely recognises the importance of digital.”
The first topic that Katherine covered in her presentation focused on Surrey Heartlands CCG’s approach to digital: “We see digital as a real enabler, it’s a core enabler, we’re not driving transformation we’re supporting the scale of clinical and operational transformation. It’s really important to think about the opportunities to join organisations together to use technology and data to support clinicians and our operational experts to design new models of care.”
Reducing waiting times and avoidable administration is a key objective for Surrey Heartlands, as Katherine explains: “Our role is to focus on how can we reduce avoidable administration and unnecessary delays as we hand services off between organisations? How can we join that up better so that we can reduce administration? I think by doing so [we can] possibly address and be a component of addressing, some of the waiting times that we are having to deal with [in] clinical services.”
Katherine went on to discuss the design principles and structure of Surrey’s Healthy Neighbourhoods programme: “In terms of the structure of our programme, Healthy Neighbourhoods, which is our digital primary care model, is right in the centre of everything we’re doing.
“If we design digital services that people don’t want to use, they just simply won’t use them. For a large majority of people, there are elements of health and social care that they are really happy to do online. Who wants to go into a surgery and sit and wait for a repeat prescription? That’s not the case for everybody, so making sure that we are building services for everyone – digital inclusion and engagement – is at the very heart of every single one of our projects.”
Katherine says that Surrey Heartlands CCG is starting work to re-design patient services with patient feedback at the core of the project: “This is a large piece of work in Surrey to redesign elements of primary care with citizens so it’s a major co-design project and we’re scoping that out at the moment, with citizen representatives.”
As Surrey Heartlands continues to scale up and provide digital primary care, Katherine adds that significant obstacles remain: “There’s a bit of a crisis in primary care and it feels as though it’s coming from all directions. GPs have a much more complex workload, there’s much more of that complexity and the demand is growing.
“We’ve got backlogs of long-term condition reviews, we’ve got the ongoing COVID vaccination programme, which we’re utterly committed to, and citizens are much more demanding now than they ever have been.
“We’ve got a known recruitment and retention crisis and actually – through the pandemic – we’ve introduced a multiplicity of channels really rapidly and that’s created some of its own issues. We’re taking this as the perfect opportunity to design a new model of health and social care.”
The new model for care will take advantage of digital services, as Katherine explains: “What we’ve done for absolutely the right reasons is opened up new channels of communication and accelerating the ability of patients to contact their GP surgery, and access things like vital virtual consultations. But, we’ve created a multiplicity of routes by which people can get in touch for administrative and medical questions online too.
“We’re looking at a single point of access, we’re going to be really ambitious. Can we design a single point of access via the NHS App? I think that’s the trusted logo and trusted place where people will come and look for access to health services.”
The audience asked Katherine questions about her presentation and the first question picked up on the point of digital prescriptions and what that looks like for Surrey Heartlands CCG: “There’s a couple of options that we’re looking at and it’s around the repeat prescriptions. One of the core design principles that we have is thinking about reusing existing functionality. The NHS App enables the requesting of repeat prescriptions so that’s one of the areas that we’re looking at. There’s also some work going on in the back end with primary care to integrate into pharmacy applications.”
The next question asked how to make single point access for patients a possibility with a wide range of apps and software available for clinicians, Katherine said: “I think the answer for me instead of anything else is that really deep citizen engagement. What are people likely to use? If we make it too hard for people to use digital services, they just simply won’t. If they’ve got three apps for their remote monitoring and then they’ve got a whole range of different passwords to log on to a primary care portal then people just simply won’t do it.”
Katherine’s presentation is available to watch below: