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Video: North East and North Cumbria ICS share their digital strategy

North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Integrated Care System (ICS) joined us at one of our HTN Now Focus events last year, sharing insights into how digital innovations and ideas can support ICSs, as the 42 new organisations develop across England and await their formal creation.

As their example, the team from NENC focused on the Digital Care Programme, with Professor Graham Evans, who is the ICS’s Chief Digital Officer (CDO), presenting a webcast on its digital strategies.

Professor Evans began by discussing the drivers behind digital transformation – highlighting a halt or even a reduction in life expectancy in some areas of England, the widening of health inequalities, and increasing demands on NHS services, including for treatment of preventable conditions.

“[With] the current hospital-based model of care and the supply and demand challenge, there’s definitely a disconnect there. We need to try and consider what other options we may have. Ideally prevention – but can we get people out of hospitals [and] to a more appropriate setting quicker? Can we prevent people coming to hospitals in the first place?…overall, the NHS needs to work very differently than it does today,” he explained.

“What we need to do now is look at how we effect truly transformational change. Part of the answer to that will be working in Integrated Care Systems with strong local governance, to deliver the health and care needs to our local populations.”

Professor Evans then provided an overview of the NENC ICS – the largest of England’s 42 integrated systems, with its 3.2 million people and large geographic footprint. Due to its size, the area is currently sub-divided into four Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs): North Cumbria, Tees Valley, North of Tyne and Gateshead, and Durham, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

The Professor named digital as one of the six current priority workstreams in NENC’s strategic plan, complete with a roadmap and strategy. “[The] Digital transformation [workstream] was about making the best use of technology, data and IT, to ensure efficient and effective services were delivered. We published our first strategy as far back as 2019 and, during the preceding period, we then had the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan, the NHS People Plan and, last but by no means least, we had the global pandemic,” he added, noting that this had allowed for a “stock take.”

“During the height of the first wave of the pandemic, we worked virtually across our region to look at our strategy and bring it up to speed and up to date, with a range of innovative things that we wanted to deliver, or to reaffirm,” he said.

On the digital strategy itself, Professor Evans explained that it has been co-produced with local authorities and ICS stakeholders. “It gives a very clear description of our vision and our key aims and ambitions,” he stated, highlighting the five key themes: getting the essentials right, integrating, connecting points of care, learnings and empowerment.

After taking the audience through the layout of, and approach to, the NENC strategy, he then moved on to explaining the format of the roadmap and the intent to be “digital by default”, as well as the alignment with both the Long Term and People plans.

During the pandemic, he added that, “many of those things that we were planning to do, we actually did – very quickly, we stood up virtual technologies, we deployed capabilities to allow staff to work from home, we implemented a whole range of solutions that allowed patients and citizens to interact digitally.”

However, he cautioned, “we don’t want to create digital inequality – we need to give people the tools to allow them to work, with choice, to access health and care services where that’s necessary and appropriate.”

The Professor also highlighted several ‘flagship’ digital programmes within NENC’s digital strategy, including the Great North Care Record and Health Information Exchange – which connects over 90 per cent of the ICS’s secondary care providers, as well as 100 per cent of their primary care practices and around 50 per cent of local authorities.

The patient engagement platform for this is also now in its final stages, according to the CDO, along with a business case to develop a Trusted Research and Evaluation Environment.

Other programmes showcased included Health Call, which focuses on technologies to improve pathways and patient self-management, as well as connecting with health and care records to “really close that loop and provide positive offerings for patients and citizens”.

Digital governance was also touched upon, with Professor Evans then shifting to discuss how NENC is using frameworks such as ‘What Good Looks Like’  (WGLL) to “identify the areas of synergy and opportunity” within its current strategy. He also shared a scoring method for WGLL success measures and self-assessment, before underlining that “clearly, digital is not an option but an absolute necessity.”

A short animated video was then incorporated into the presentation to provide a snappy overview of the ICS’s achievements and ambitions for the future.

In keeping with the future theme, Professor Evans concluded the webcast with a look at what’s to come. “We’re no longer limited by the technology, we’re almost limited by our imaginations, more often than not,” he stated.

“In the region we’re already looking at a whole range of new technologies and techniques, such as AI within our diagnostic services, how we deliver those services closer to home through the Health Call offer…ultimately, that can link to some of our innovations through genomic research etc.”

On what the ICS could look like, he highlighted how “we want to try and shift the balance from being a cure and support-type health and care service, with very traditional delivery models….[towards] earlier diagnostics, health on the high street, and self-care closer to home. That’s our ambition but that will take a generation to implement. Technology has a key part to play.”

Catch up on the full session below: