News, NP

HSC Northern Ireland publish digital strategy for 2022-2030

Health and Social Care (HSC) Northern Ireland have published their digital strategy for the next eight years, sharing their vision of “making lives better for the people of Northern Ireland, using digital to transform the way we deliver health, care and wellbeing services.”

HSC published the strategy this week and opened a survey to capture feedback on their thinking so far, ahead of an official launch in October. Here we take a closer look at the strategy.

The strategy begins by setting out the context, including four foundation enablers that are “critical components” of the strategy and the plan to deliver it: digital leadership and culture, digital talent, management and governance, and infrastructure and programmes. These four enablers “outline the priority areas that we will focus on building over the lifetime of this digital strategy,” it states.

Additionally, engagement with the public through an October 2021 survey highlighted a further four areas of focus based on public interest and expectation: data security, service usability, range of services and equal opportunities.

“Ambitious digital transformation journey underpinned by our strategic framework”

Built on the foundational enablers listed above, the framework lays out six strategic outcomes:

  • Digital will provide the population greater visibility and control over treatment and care journeys
  • Digital solutions will put quality and safety at the heart of all new processes, systems and ways of working
  • Systems integration and streamlined information flows will provide effective and joined-up care
  • Digital will help staff to work more efficiently and collaboratively across standardised systems
  • Intelligent use of data will optimise performance and harness population health insights with robust data protection standards
  • Digital will support the acceleration of research and innovation to gradually embrace new solutions

In line with these outcomes, the framework shares digital capability groups: “the technologies and processes we need to put in place to deliver strategic outcomes”. These include patient engagement; digitally skilled workforce; emerging technologies; systems integration and cyber security; innovation and digital agility; and data-driven care and insights.

What does the future look like?

In order to make their vision a reality, HSC shares their vision for success for care providers; fast-paced and responsive digitally-led environment with insight-driven care and world class digital infrastructure. “Staff will have access to data and dashboards on-demand,” the strategy says, with “mobile working and online access… driven by digitally enabled processes and operations.” In addition, “staff will have access to innovative solutions and flagship programmes, underpinned by secure cyber processes.” To aid responsiveness, HSC will “utilise fusion teams alongside hubs for innovation and delivery”.

For the Northern Ireland population, the vision for the future includes “cutting edge diagnostic and treatment solutions”, streamlined care journeys, personalised treatment and digital touchpoints to help patients “live more independently for longer, with digital solutions and technologies that help them feel connected”.

Three-phased approach

“Our strategic roadmap outlines a three-phased approach for digital,” the strategy shares. “Each phase complements the next and when completed will move us to a significantly higher level of digital maturity as an organisation.”

The first phase is implementing: “We invest our time and resources in implementing the key initiatives and programmes that will transform health and care services in Northern Ireland. This phase will also look to address a number of the capability and enabling requirements that will support implementation and set HSC up for the future phases.”

To meet the objectives, specific actions included during this phase are:

  • delivering and implementing the Patient Portal and GP Intelligence Platform
  • delivering the cybersecurity programme
  • devising a clear and structured approach to public engagement
  • focusing on building awareness and understanding of systems along with user requirements
  • adopting streamlined systems and information flows for system integration
  • support HSC staff to embrace change and invest time in developing knowledge and skills
  • developing robust business change and training processes
  • developing pathways for staff to build analytics capabilities
  • focusing on data quality and safety through cybersecurity initiatives and programmes
  • actively encouraging the sharing of best practice and consolidating it centrally
  • signposting to important methods and tools to support more innovation

The next phase is all about “making best use of the transformational technologies, data and systems that we have implemented”, advancing the momentum and learning gathered during the first stage and focusing on developing new capabilities such as lean process design, service design and data analytics.

For this phase, actions will include:

  • optimising and customising existing resources to meet needs and to collect more data which can be used to improve services
  • capturing requirements and expectations from HSC and the public to develop an approach for continuous improvement
  • decommissioning of legacy systems
  • leading the way in adopting new systems through acute screening programmes and community/primary care integration programmes
  • embedding further functionality into existing systems to reduce administrative burden
  • embedding skilled data and analytics capabilities into teams at all levels
  • developing an innovation pathway to provide greater clarity on how to promote solutions and improve digital services

The third phase, innovating, will see HSC invest time and resources in new technologies and initiatives, testing and scaling where appropriate across the digital portfolio, and continuing to implement and optimise solutions.

Here, planned actions include:

  • promoting innovation and scaling up successful ideas
  • exploring how new technology can be integrated into existing platforms
  • building agile teams of digital professionals and HSC staff to identify areas for change and improvement
  • providing opportunities for all staff to input into system reviews
  • pairing frontline staff with digital experts
  • integrating systems and refining information storage into fewer places to improve access
  • developing processes to routinely evaluate data and share it across the organisation
  • harnessing skills built through previous phases to embrace new analytics tools
  • building agile teams of data professionals to use data in innovative new ways
  • develop and nurture an innovative culture, boosting confidence to try new solutions

What are the challenges?

The strategy acknowledges the three key challenges facing its plan: funding; ecosystem challenges (such as the need to reduce the waiting list backlog, increasing demand on social care services and the changing habits of digital adoption); and rebuilding services after the COVID-19 pandemic.

It notes that “successful digital transformation requires a clear and effective management and accountability, as well as defined digital and business governance”, adding: “We must also consider whether there are further organisational changes that would improve our ability to deliver the ambitious and complex digital transformation we have planned.” With the UK counterpart already shifting towards more centralised structures, HSC states: “Consideration of the potential benefits of new approaches to digital delivery and management for Northern Ireland will be an important next step.”

The partnership approach

The strategy comments on the need to establish “strong, ongoing partnerships” with the people who use digital services and tools, and outlines commitments made to the partners along with expectations of them to support the digital agenda.

Partners include the population of Northern Ireland, staff, universities and higher education, arms-length bodies (ALBs), digital suppliers and sector partners.

Some of the commitments listed in this section include:

  • for the population: working with focus groups representing the population throughout service development to capture requirements and design services
  • for staff: working closely with professional groups across all settings to define digital pathways and providing opportunities for staff to be embedded in programme teams so that they can support and evaluate delivery of new tools
  • for educators: working with academic institutions to increase awareness and visibility through increased engagement and insight-sharing
  • for ALBs: ensuring that representatives from ALBs form part of planning and design teams for new solutions
  • for suppliers: working with suppliers in the market to identify opportunities for collaboration and where they can best support within procurement and legal guidelines
  • for sector partners: working closely with research agencies and the industry to “horizon scan” for new digital development, trends and opportunities

Commitments for the future

Finally, the strategy shares: “To ensure we deliver this digital strategy, we will establish a digital charter that we will share across the HSC, working with all organisations to tailor these commitments to those things that are most important to them and asking their leadership and staff to sign up to the journey towards better and more digitally enabled health and social care.”

It goes on to share a number of commitments that make up the charter:

  • clinical digital leadership: all HSC organisations will have CCIOs representing the breadth of health and care professionals responsible for ensuring that design, implementation and use of digital technology is done safely and with the population in mind
  • digital networks: HSC will work with professional and provider organisations to develop a Digital Network of professionals who connect regularly and feed into governance structures at all levels
  • digital careers: HSC will work in partnership with professional organisations to ensure support for the development of digital career pathways and develop career opportunities
  • digital champions: digital champions will be identified, trained and supported to promote digital ways of working and the adoption of a ‘digital first’ culture
  • digital governance: existing structures will be reviewed and HSC commit to improving the governance of digital across the organisation to ensure it supports effective decision-making
  • collaborative working: HSC will engage actively and continuously with partners, independent and third sectors, academia, suppliers and the population to develop services

To read the strategy in full, please click here.