“We need to be ambitious and bold” – exploring the digital focus in Sussex’s ICS strategy

NHS Sussex has released their five-year integrated care strategy, ‘Improving Lives Together’, which outlines the integrated care system’s plans to improve health and care for the local population.

One of the key priorities the strategy emphasises is “improving the use digital technology and information.” As it stands, Sussex has undertaken a lot of work “to improve health and care over the last few years that has brought real benefits” to the community. The strategy states that “more is being done to prevent people going to hospitals for care” such as the implementation of virtual wards, to support people and their carers at home. Community diagnostic centres are also being rolled out to provide people with the technology, tests, scans and treatment they need closer to home.

The strategy goes on to emphasise the three success factors which require sustained improvement in order to elevate the delivery of health and care across the region. Digital technology is one of these, along with workforce and partnership working.

On the subject of improving the use of digital technology and information, the strategy states: “We will build on the work that has already taken place to improve the use of digital technology. This will help staff make better decisions, work more efficiently and provide better care. It will also help local people access services more easily to tell their story once and have more involvement and control over their own health and care.”

In order to achieve these outcomes, the strategy lays out five key objectives. Firstly, the ICS aims to connect information across services more seamlessly, to facilitate a more joined-up way of working.

Improving technology and data sharing is another objective, with NHS Sussex committed to supporting organisations to improve the way they use technology and subsequently their methods of sharing data.

Thirdly, the strategy places emphasis on supporting staff to have easy access to the information and resources they need, “wherever they are and whenever they need it.”

Next, the strategy highlights the importance of giving local people information; empowering them to access and manage their own health and care information is a long-term goal of the ICS.

The final objective is to support people to use technology, with the ICS emphasising that it is dedicated to cultivating a positive, technology enabled culture that helps people and carers to use and understand digital technology confidently, and in a way that best supports their needs. In particular, the ICS wants to address existing inequalities to eradicate digital exclusion, help people who are unsure how to use technology and ultimately foster better health outcomes.

To demonstrate their dedication to embracing technology, the strategy shares a case study highlighting the ICS’s work to support people at home during COVID through their Covid Oximetry at Home (CO@Home) virtual ward services. These were “rapidly rolled out” from December 2021 as part of the ICS’s response to the pandemic and implementation of these services enabled patients to manage their symptoms at home using simple technologies designed to identify deterioration early in the process.

The study describes how patients were monitored virtually three times a day, with clinical questions from doctors and healthcare professionals sent via portal, text, email or telephone call. “Feedback shows the simple equipment and flexible contact methods made it easy for patients and their carers to monitor and report on their health,” the document notes, “and worked well for patients with learning difficulties, sensory impairment and mental health conditions, as well as those for whom English is not their first language.”

Data from that period suggests that over 2,100 patients were supported and cared for over a period of five months as a result of implementing the new services and technology. In light of their past successes, the ICS is keen to build and enhance their current digital pathways and seek new technological solutions which would help mitigate future healthcare challenges.

Looking ahead, the strategy acknowledges that achieving these goals – along with the ICS’s other key priories-  will be challenging, stating that “we need to be ambitious and bold” and that a “collective effort” is needed in order to ensure these changes are implemented successfully.

The strategy goes on to say that “a more efficient use of technology to ensure better flows of patient data across health and care services” is essential in terms of driving improved health and care outcomes across the region. It is hoped that over the next five years, we will continue to see exponential growth in the the ICS’s use of technology and deploying a positive digital culture.

To read more about NHS Sussex’s ICS strategy, please click here.