Scotland publishes refreshed digital strategy and plans new data strategy

NHS Scotland has refreshed its digital strategy, with a renewed focus on digital inclusion being at the heart of its plans.

The strategy has been updated in line with a recent refresh of the overall Digital Strategy for Scotland, which details how the country’s services and public can ‘adapt to change’ and ‘thrive in a digital world’.

In addition, a new data strategy for health and social care is being developed and is anticipated to be published towards the end of next year.

As part of the refreshed strategy, it states: “We recognise the problems that come from digital exclusion – digital inclusion, now more than ever, must be at the heart of what we do. We heard time and again throughout the engagement process the need to tackle digital exclusion and provide ‘digital choice’. As we continue to develop digital service choice for our citizens, this strategy recognises the imperative to do digital right. Whilst technology can and does transform lives for the better, we must ensure that no one is left behind.”

The strategy sets out its overarching vision ‘to improve the care and wellbeing of people in Scotland by making best use of digital technologies in the design and delivery of services’. It documents its aims, priorities, approach to improving digital skills, service design standards, data standards, digital foundations and digital services.

Progressing its data strategy, the Digital Health and Care Data Strategy Working Group, part of the Scottish Government, is now leading on the development and wider engagement programme. The engagement is believed to include a three-staged approach: “Initial information gathering to shape the draft strategy through a range of workshops and meetings; testing those messages through follow-up workshops and meetings and; a formal consultation online accompanied by virtual or face to face workshops with those who cannot or do not want to participate online.”

In a blog post on the Scottish Government website on 20 December, the data strategy states it will be “focused on making key national decisions required to deliver interoperability and information sharing across Scotland’s health and social care services”. This also includes a remit to identify priorities for improvement and collaborative working, sharing of best practice, and embedding new ways of working, it states.

Commenting on the direction of the strategy, Interim Director for Digital Health and Social Care, Jonathan Cameron, said: “We believe citizens should have access to and control over, their own health and care data – including the ability to view and update information contained in their records, and access information such as test results, letters and treatment and/or care plans. We will outline how we will ‘democratise access’ by laying the groundwork for a radical shift in the power dynamic between the ‘state’ largely controlling how and when data is used, to one where citizens are in far greater control over their own data.

“It is also important that health and care services are integrated and built on people-centred, safe, secure and ethical digital foundations. This allows staff to record, access and share relevant data across the health and social care system; encouraging them to feel confident in their use of digital technology in order to improve the delivery of care.

“Ethical considerations are really important as people are quite rightly concerned about how their personal health and care data is stored, shared, secured and protected. In mid-2020, we established the Data Intelligence Network (D&IN) in order to provide safe, expedient and ethical access to use data and intelligence from across public services in Scotland to effectively manage our response to the public health emergency caused by Covid-19; central to this was the development of an ethical framework. This framework contains our guiding values and principles (including transparency, accountability, fairness, competency, voice and agency) and will continue to be central to the establishment of our data strategy.

“We will also publish details of what is required to deliver secure systems across health and care. An agreed approach to data standards will direct and assure how data, including clinical data, is coded, stored and flows across the system, as well as how systems should be designed. We will modernise regulation and legislation where required to maximise the progress and benefits of digital technology. What the system looks like, and what services are developed, will be guided by a variety of standards, These include the Digital Scotland Service Standard, Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter and the Scottish Approach to Service Design. These emphasise the importance of service user involvement, of both staff providing services as well as those accessing health and care support and services. So, co-design and co-production approaches and ongoing service user participation and engagement at all stages are fundamental to how we will design, develop and deliver on the our Data Strategy.”

To read the digital strategy, please click here.