NHS England October board papers share update on digital in maternity care, genomics and more

NHS England has shared the papers from its latest board meeting  [5 October], with discussion highlighting the role of digital, data and technology in a number of key areas including tackling health inequalities in caring for people with learning disabilities and autism, accelerating genomics research and improving safety in maternity care.

The operational performance update notes how a key aim in the UEC recovery plan focuses on increasing capacity. Between January and September this year, the paper shares, “145 new virtual beds have been mobilised, with 9,885 virtual ward ‘beds’ available in August.” The update notes that this is “very close to the 10,000 ambition for September”, whilst acknowledging a need to continue working with local providers to increase occupancy.

In addition, the paper highlights that key programme guidance has been updated and new guidance published, including around the procurement of technology.

Looking at work in the area of genomics, the operational performance update states that the NHS Genomic Networks of Excellence are to play a “key role” in bringing together the NHS Genomic Medicine Service, National Institute for Health and Care Research, Biomedical Research Centres, Academic Health Science Networks and other partners with a view to accelerate genomics research. “This will support the generation of evidence and models of adoption for new technology and testing,” the paper notes, “and clinical and laboratory practice… in defined areas of strategic importance.”

The role of data is highlighted with regards to prevention and long-term conditions, with update sharing that the CVDPREVENT audit – a national audit of GP records to support primary care in understanding how many people with cardiovascular disease or related conditions are potentially undiagnosed, under-treated or over-treated – “has published a new regional and insights dashboard which allows anyone to view data from national to practice level, including peer comparisons and detailed breakdowns by health inequalities markers”.

Moving on to look at the learning disability and autism programme update, the paper shares a number of actions undertaken by the programme to address health inequalities in this space. One such action is the development of a Reasonable Adjustments Digital Flag (RADF), which is to be rolled out by April 2024; this will identify, record, flag and share an individual’s reasonable adjustment needs via NHS Spine, along with underlying conditions or impairments, so that health and publicly funded care providers are alerted to their needs.

Another action focuses on “learning from the lives and deaths of people with a learning disability and autistic people”, with the next annual report due to be published later this month. The paper shares how a data tool has been developed to support ICBs in identifying trends in improving local care pathways; an online resource bank has also been launched to support health and care professionals in providing support to people with a learning disability or who are autistic.

With regards to the update from the maternity and neonatal programme, the board discussed that in order to deliver ambitions to improve care, maternity and neonatal teams must be supported by robust structures and standards, including timely access to data and appropriate digital and estates structures. They highlighted that the maternity digital capabilities framework, made available on the NHSFutures platform in August, “enables secondary care providers to procure electronic patient record systems that are suitable for maternity services”.

On the topic of data, the papers highlight “existing good practice in several regional teams using heatmaps to identify any areas of concerns and bringing together all regional partners to share intelligence to improve safety.” The chair of the Maternity and Neonatal Outcomes Group is also leading a programme of work with the aim of further improving data use in maternity services; the group is developing an early warning surveillance tool “using more timely outcome data to identify potential issues earlier for trust boards to act on as well as identify the services needing support”.

The board papers also provide an update on the NHS roll-out of Atamis, a single eCommercial system for procurement. They highlight “great success” in getting a critical mass of organisations onboarded”, with 72 percent of scope health organisations onboarded to Atamis by August 2023. This means that NHSE has already met the overall programme target of 70 percent by March 2024. At present, the platform holds a pipeline worth £42 billion and active contracts with a combined value of £121 billion.

“Whilst a critical mass has been achieved in onboarding organisations, with significant savings delivered, more work is required to ensure high data completion and quality to drive further analytics to inform the commercial process,” the papers state. “Longer term central funding will need to be established, beyond the initial 3-year term, to ensure continuity of service and the ability to use this commercial dataset in the future.”

The papers note benefits and savings realised, including identification of commercial saving opportunities, identification and delivery of efficiency savings and enablement of electronic contract signature processes.

To read the NHS board papers in full, please click here.

In recent news from NHS England, September saw us cover the 2023-2024 business plan, which noted the intention to “transform care through harnessing data, information and technology”.

In September we also noted NHSE’s plans for a a supplier to provide an independent review of user experience in healthcare, with focus on features and functionality across 10 healthcare apps in order to consider future enhancements for the NHS App.

Earlier in the year, we shared the discussion from another NHSE board meeting which focused on innovation and improving research within the NHS; click here to catch up.