NHS England has published its business plan for 2023-2024, setting out plans to address challenges including health inequalities, access to primary care services, elective long waits and ambulance response, as well as highlighting the intention to “transform care through harnessing data, information and technology”.
The new business plan incorporates actions that will be taken to meet the 2023 mandate objectives across four headings: cutting NHS waiting lists and recovering performance; supporting the workforce through training, retention and modernising the way staff work; delivering recovery through the use of data and technology; and continuing work to deliver the NHS Long Term Plan to transform services and improve outcomes.
Digital is said to play a role in reducing elective long waits and cancer backlogs, particularly in the area of diagnostics, with the plan mentioning specifically £2.3 billion in capital funding allocated to 2025 for supporting diagnostic service transformation, including digital diagnostics and digital diagnostic infrastructure. The ambition is that 95% of patients receive a diagnostic test within six weeks by March 2025. The plan also highlights the development of a Patient Initiated Digital Mutual Aid System (PIDMAS), which “will offer patients the ability to opt-in to move provider when they have been waiting over 40 weeks for care”.
In access to primary care, the role of digital will focus on helping to implement modern general practice access, with practices transitioning to digital telephony, ambitions for 75% of all adults in England to be registered on the NHS App by March 2024, and a commitment to improving “the digital infrastructure between general practice and community pharmacy to streamline referrals”.
Under “improving mental health services and services for people with a learning disability and autistic people”, the plan highlights the need to “create a strategy for integrating digital health technologies in mental health settings and pathways”, in order to support the delivery of mental health improvements.
Digital is again a key factor set out by the new plan in preventing ill health and tackling health inequalities, with a focus on the potential to develop a “national digital structured education support for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes”, as well as a digital tobacco dependency service. To strengthen screening and vaccinations, the plan notes the need to “enhance the vaccinations digital platform, developing a national vaccination record, extending the use of the NHS App and establishing the foundations for a lower cost base”, and to “implement the digital transformation of screening, to deliver new digital products for the invitation of, and communication with, eligible members of the public for the breast and diabetic eye programmes”.
On developing the workforce, digital technology will be used to “help increase the time to care and respond to changing population needs”, whilst the plan identifies the development and roll-out of digital solutions such as a staff app or digital staff passport, as helping to “support flexible working practices and flexible deployment of staff across organisational boundaries”.
Finally, under the header “transform care through harnessing data, information and technology”, the plan sets out the opportunities to “accelerate the digitally enabled transformation of the NHS, adopting effective technologies and building on insights from data and cutting-edge research”. According to the plan, NHS England “will continue to work with systems to level up digital infrastructure, drive greater connectivity and support the development of a digital first option for the public, helping patients identify their needs, manage their health, and get the right care in the right setting”. Here, the plan states, will involve a focus on three areas: ensuring digital foundations “are in place everywhere”; “helping the different parts of the NHS to work together through improved use-ability, connectivity and interoperability”; and “using digital products and leveraging innovation and research to transform health and care”.
Priorities under the same header include ensuring that 90% of trusts have an electronic patient record (EPR), delivering “technology upgrades across primary care”, developing a “portfolio of core digital products and services” to improve outcomes and “address legacy technology constraints”, and accelerating “the uptake of the most promising Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies”.
Specific actions to help deliver on these priorities include developing a “support offer to trusts undertaking EPR-related transformation and publish Minimum Digital Foundations guidance”; procuring a Federated Data Platform, available to all ICSs, with nationally developed functionality including tools to help maximise capacity, reduce waiting lists, and coordinate care; and piloting an “Artificial Intelligence deployment platform”.
Last year, we explored the role of digital in NHS England’s business plan for 2022-2023, which focused on responding to pandemic challenges, transforming delivery of health and care through collaborative system working, and using data and digital technologies.
Just last month, we also considered the importance of digital technologies in supporting NHS England’s winter resilient system roles and responsibilities plan, which highlighted the role for digital in supporting primary care access, and in achieving an 80 percent occupancy rate target for virtual wards over the winter period.