News, NHS trust

“Advancements in healthcare science and technology will change the future of the NHS” – exploring the role of digital in St George’s, Epsom and St Helier Hospital Group’s 2023-2028 strategy

St George’s, Epsom and St Helier Hospital Group (GESH) has published their group strategy for 2023-28, highlighting their ambitions around digital technology in improving environmental sustainability, supporting new models of care, increasing virtual consultations, and more.

Firstly, the strategy sets the scene in terms of where the group is at present. It highlights key challenges to be tackled, including keeping on top of innovation, stating, “We must respond to rising demand for our services while keeping abreast with medical and technological advances.” The strategy acknowledges that digital innovation is “changing how we deliver healthcare”, from digital-first options for appointments to the use of artificial intelligence in screening, diagnostics, disease management and operative care. “Robotic surgery is increasingly becoming a key component in surgical treatment,” it adds, “and surgical teams are starting to use 3D custom printing in their work.”

GESH acknowledges the “major benefits” that lie in some of the digital advancements they are starting to pursue, such as a shared system for electronic patient records across St George’s, Epson and St Helier – “providing faster, safer and more convenient care, and supporting our staff to work more flexibly and efficiently.”

The vision

The group’s vision for 2028 is set out under CARE: collaboration and partnership, affordable healthcare fit for the future, right care in the right place at the right time, and empowered, engaged staff.

Digital falls firstly under ‘affordable healthcare fit for the future’, with GESH reiterating their ambitions to adopt digital technology, develop new treatments through research and innovation, minimise their impact on the environment, and ensure that services are financially sustainable.

Looking at improving environment sustainability, GESH sets out how “fewer patients will be travelling to hospital due to greater use of digital platforms and a reduction in unnecessary outpatient trips.” In addition, they hope to be producing less waste, “having completed the shift from paper-based to efficient and effective electronic clinical systems”.

With regards to keeping pace with digital technology, the strategy states that the vision for 2028 is for staff and patients to have access to the information and digital technology that they need, when and where they need it. To achieve this, GESH will “continue investing in our digital infrastructure, with upgrades to the systems that underpin the work of our staff, and action on cyber security.”

Digital technology is also to support new models of care, including virtual interaction with clinicians, and will support staff to work differently; again, the strategy acknowledges the role of the shared EPR system across the group, which will “enable clinicians to access the information they need quickly about patients moving between our sites, and help us offer the same high standard of care across our services.”

Looking next at innovation and enterprise, the group states that advancements in healthcare science and technology such as 3D printing, robotics, AI, genomic medicine and cell-based therapies “will change the future of the NHS.” They state their intention to continually adopt these innovations, particularly where they relate to some of GESH’s tertiary service strengths; for example, making increased use of cell-based therapies in specialist cancer services. “In parallel,” the strategy says, “we will foster innovation and enterprise amongst our own staff, supporting them to take innovations from initial concept to implementation and commercial success.”

The role of digital is highlighted again under the ‘right care in the right place at the right time’ part of the vision, which focuses on cutting waiting list times, delivering an “outstanding” safety culture, improving outcomes and patient experience, and working with partners to tackle health inequalities in the community.

Digital is noted for the role it can play in improving access, with GESH highlighting how by 2028 they hope to be “operating a radically different model for outpatient care, enabled by digital technology.” The strategy that there will be better connection and communication between hospital consultants and GPs to support them in caring for patients in the community, and referrals will be assessed virtually before patients are brought in for an appointment to save time and increase service efficiency.

The group emphasises the plans to use digital to support new ways of working under their plans to develop tomorrow’s workforce. Here, the strategy sets out how GESH intends to be “flexible by default”, with digitally-supported working play a key role in this in order to “support our aspiration to be a flexible employer, and help our staff operate ‘at the top of their license’.”

How to get there

In terms of how GESH will fulfil their vision, the document states that progress against a range of corporate enabling strategies will underpin delivery. IT is one such strategy, with the document stating a need for “action to build more robust digital infrastructure (including cybersecurity), and to put in place the digital enablers to new models of care, and new ways of working – making the most effective use of limited available resource.”

Another enabling strategy will be GESH’s green plan, with technology expected to support this by reducing the need for travel. Digital is also expected to feature in the research and innovation strategy, which will see GESH develop a new data warehouse to incorporate “linked and searchable clinical, radiological and pathological datasets” in order to act as “a powerful resource for researchers.”

The document then turns to strategic initiatives, with collaboration and integration featuring at the forefront. The strategy shares how GESH will work with partners in Surrey Downs, Sutton, Merton and Wandsworth to develop more integrated models of care across primary, community, social care and hospital services. The integration programme is to focus on improving people’s experience of urgent and episodic care by developing integrated services and teams to provide timely care following hospital discharge, and access to specialist advice and digital innovations to support self-management.

Another priority in this area is to embrace multi-disciplinary working; this is to include utilising digital support to enable specialists to join in multi-disciplinary team meetings.

Finally, the document highlights a strategic initiative around the shared EPR across GESH. “Where resources allow, we will invest in medical devices integrated into this electronic patient record, aiding our clinicians in providing efficient healthcare,” the strategy states. “This initiative will build on the wider delivery of our IT strategy (e.g. investment in maintenance of underpinning infrastructure such as network, wifi, and remote working solutions in a cybersecurity compliant way as the essential foundation to adopting more transformational digital technology).”

To read the strategy in full, please click here.