Health and Social Care Committee’s latest report calls for tech and digital roadmap

The UK’s Health and Social Care Committee has released its latest report on tackling the healthcare backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes publishing further recommendations related to health tech and digital developments.

Entitled ‘Clearing the Backlog caused by the pandemic’, the 46-page document looks at the scale and impact of the backlog on a wide range of services, as well as the funding and policies in place to help relieve the pressures, before making a series of conclusions and recommendations.

The committee is appointed by the House of Commons to ‘examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Department of Health & Social Care’, and its current cross-party membership is comprised of 11 MPs.

Key points in the document include that the committee heard during the course of its inquiry that ‘workforce shortages were the “key limiting factor” on success in tackling the backlog’ and noted NHS Digital statistics that, as of June 2021, ‘there are currently 93,000 vacancies for NHS positions and shortages in nearly every specialty’ in England.

The committee also outlines that its ‘key new recommendation’ is for the Department of Health and Social Care to work with NHS England to ‘produce a broader national health and care recovery plan that goes beyond the elective backlog to emergency care, mental health, primary care, community care and social care’ by April 2022.

‘It should be sensitive to the needs of local populations, incorporate the plans already announced in the ten-year plan, and explain how they will be delivered by the new Integrated Care Boards’, the authors add. In addition, the reports states that the plan should take into account ‘the risk that a reliance on numerical targets alone will deprioritise key services and risk patient safety’ and ’embrace a range of indicators to demonstrate that hidden backlogs are also being tackled and compassionate cultures encouraged’.

Other recommendations include that ‘NHS England publishes, before the end of this financial year, a long covid plan covering the period until 2023’, after consultation with stakeholders such as patient groups.

While capacity, training and workforce issues are widely considered in the publication, along with social care funding and the potential pressures caused by Long COVID, there is also a focus on innovation, specifically on technology and integration.

In this area, the committee focuses on infrastructure, highlighting that ‘technology and innovation had much to contribute but also that basic IT infrastructure was lacking, making it difficult to spread innovation’. It later commented that ‘there is a big opportunity to change ways of delivering care that are no longer fit for purpose’ by building on the ‘new integrated, safe and effective models that have emerged’.

On technology, the report added: ‘We welcome the Spending Review commitments of £2.1bn in technology and data and believe it is a step in the right direction. We note the publication of the Wade-Gery report on 23 November and agree with its finding that “now is the moment to put data, digital and technology at the heart of how we transform health services for the benefit of citizens, patients and NHS staff”.’

However, the committee report said it urged the UK Government to ‘use the Wade-Gery report as a platform to make further progress on the digitalisation of NHS and care services’. The report also highlighted Amanda Pritchard, CEO of NHS England’s quote that “about a fifth of trusts in the NHS are still largely paper based,” and added that ‘this is not acceptable’.

While the paper allowed that there is ‘enormous potential for technology to support a transformation in NHS care that will bring benefits for patients and staff alike’, it cautioned that, ‘this potential will not be realised while many providers still struggle with basic IT infrastructure.’

It’s recommendations for digital and tech transformation revolve around the Laura Wade-Gery review into data, digital and tech in the NHS, which was published towards the end of 2021. The committee advises that: ‘NHS England must produce its roadmap in response to the Wade-Gery report on Putting data, digital and tech at the heart of transforming the NHS at the earliest opportunity so that we and others are able to scrutinise it ahead of implementation.’

To read the report in full, as well as the minutes, click here.

This article contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.