NHSE Digital Productivity programme shares roadmap for the future

The Digital Productivity programme from NHS England’s Transformation Directorate has shared its delivery plans going forward, along with the key areas of focus over the past year.

Robot process automation (RPA)

Overall, the programme aims to improve RPA capability across as many NHS services as possible by 2024.

Present work includes launching their first RPA e-learning programme for NHS staff in association with Health Education England and their education programme e-learning for healthcare (ELFH), along with generating evidence from applications of RPA from Unified Tech Fund sites over the next two years in order to track benefits of implementation. RPA blueprints are to be published in collaboration with the Unified Tech Fund sites, to demonstrate how optimisation of processes can be achieved through RPA alongside learnings and recommendations.

Other ambitions include developing an open source RPA repository on GitHub and developing the New Hospital Programme whereby blueprints automation capability is a “core architecture solution in the footprint for enabling transformation”.

Looking further ahead to the next year and beyond, the programme aims to accelerate the spread of RPA technologies across the system. Currently 61% of acute trusts have automatons live, the digital productivity team notes. Aswell the programme aims to explore capabilities of RPA including natural language processing, optical character recognition, speech recognition, ambient and sentient capabilities and machine learning.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Real Time Location Systems (RTLS)

By 2024, the programme intends to support successful adoption of RFID and RTLS across as many NHS organisations as possible by 2024.

Current plans see the programme focusing on generating evidence of impact from applications of RTLS at the Unified Tech Fund sites, continuing to grow the community of practice in terms of membership and useful content such as case studies, and creating a blueprint in collaboration with Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to showcase learnings and recommendations.

Future aspirations include reviewing legislation, policy, regulations and standards, along with providing recommendations for improvement, and sharing evidence of the impact generated by the ten funded sites across the NHS to build workforce confidence and increaser productivity.

Extended reality (XR): virtual, augmented and mixed 

The programme aims to build a “world-class ecosystem” for XR technologies in healthcare, to support improvements in productivity and patient outcomes.

The programme has been focusing on generating impact, publishing findings from discovery work to develop an ambition statement, developing and publishing case studies, building a public dynamic tool to help find relevant XR user needs, and building a benefits, risks and cost framework to standardise evaluation of XR projects. The discovery work identified four key application areas: education and training for patients and staff; mental health and wellbeing; physiotherapy and rehabilitation; and pain management

In the 2023 and beyond, the programme intends to collaborate on the development of a national strategy to enable effective and safe use of XR, continue to generate and build evidence of impact, publish resources to support use of XR, and publish resources to support the development, buying and selling of XR in healthcare.

Digital productivity opportunity pipeline

In this area, the programme aims to “identify and evaluate digital productivity opportunities which could benefit health and care services at scale”.

Delivery plans for 2022 into 2023 have included the continuation of research to identify technologies with the potential to improve productivity; prioritising the review of technologies with the strongest alignment to NHS initiatives; and evaluating the cost-effectiveness of technologies with the strongest potential in order to improve productivity and partner with other teams working on the tech, in an effort to reduce duplication and silo working.

The key aim for the future is to provide subject matter expertise and direction to other NHS England teams, such as the Accelerated Access Collaborative, in order to support use of proven technologies with productivity benefits within NHS and social care.

Benefits, research and reporting 

The programme aims to ensure that it remains benefit-focused, continuously evaluating evidence and research to achieve maximum gain for the NHS.

To date, plans have included tracking more than 400 measures of impact for 67 Unified Technology Fund sites and developing unified productivity metrics across the NHS. The pipeline of technologies with proven productivity benefits has been supported and areas within the programme steered towards robust evaluation. In addition, evidence on the benefits of implementing productivity improving tools has been collected and analysed.

A two-year impact report is set to be published at the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023, with the programme also aiming to develop a benefits and evaluation framework for XR technology that incorporates risk and cost. A unified set of metrics for productivity informed by the 67 Unified Tech Fund sites is to be delivered, along with a unified metrics dashboard to visualise the impact of the programme’s work. Finally, digital productivity playbooks will be published to increase confidence in adopting digital technologies and realising positive productivity outcomes.

Jade Ackers, Director of NHS England’s Digital Productivity Programme, said: Digital technology not only has the power to transform patient care, but is driving enormous productivity and efficiency gains in the NHS.

“Tools like RPA, XR, and Automatic Data Capture (ADC) – including RFID and RTLS – provide an exciting opportunity for us to support our workforce and improve the NHS for patients and staff. RPA continues to play a key role in focus areas, like reducing the elective recovery backlog, by enabling staff to digitise and streamline clinical and business processes across all levels of the organisation. Our team are engaging and collaborating with a wide range of partners to collate learnings from their experiences and share recommendations and knowledge systemwide.