Digital transformation priorities for 2024 and beyond, from across the NHS

As 2023 comes to a close, we asked professionals from across the NHS what their priorities, hopes and aims are for health tech and digital healthcare in 2024 and beyond…

Rus Clark, digital architect for One Care, the GP federation that represents and supports practices across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire ICS, said: “This marks an exciting phase for digital transformation in primary care, accompanied by significant challenges. In this dynamic landscape, the commitment, and perspectives of everyone involved are as crucial, if not more so, than the technology itself. To unlock the full potential of the investment, it’s essential to invest in people, embracing their passion, knowledge, and concerns.

“Engagement and delivery take centre stage. We must pose challenging questions to the right individuals, seeking the information we genuinely need. It’s about avoiding confirmation bias and ensuring that we gather insights from those who can provide the most valuable perspectives, rather than simply hearing what we want to hear.”

Rob Birkett, chief digital and information officer at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust/The Health Informatics Service, commented: “Our digital hopes for 2024 include the rollout of a new Patient Experience Portal following a successful procurement this year. This could be a game changer in terms of all non-face-to-face interactions with patients across all our services. We are aiming to improve our HIMSS position with some planned work around closed loop prescribing and patient communication.

“A robust infrastructure should be a given in modern healthcare, so further optimisation work planned throughout 2024 including core and edge network devices, increasing our cloud provision and continued focus on cyber security. 2024 will see further development of our approach to data science, using a data led approach to service redesign, supporting both our reconfiguration of services programme as well as our role as a system partner in reducing some of the current pressures provider organisations are facing. All this alongside hopefully bringing a 3rd trust onto the joint EPR instance in late summer 2024, increasing the shared support provision across all 3 trusts. Looking forward to a busy year!”

Alexis Farrow, programme director for Digital Notts, added: “Our priorities are based on data and insight, and we know what good looks like for the citizens of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. Thinking ahead to 2024, we’ll continue to develop projects that will make a real difference, ensuring that these become embedded within the ICS stakeholders.”

James Crowther, chief technology officer, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust, noted: “It has been fantastic working with colleagues to deliver our patient portal in 2023. Now, 75% of our patients have been converted onto digital appointments – which is no mean feat.

“We will continue to build on our infrastructure and IT Ops maturity, set up a new diagnostic centre in the heart of Liverpool, and support the procurement of a new LIMS for Pathology and AI systems for Radiology across our system. We are also proud of our new digital strategy which sets out an ambitious agenda for 2024 and beyond.

“We are looking forward to working together as a team to: Empower our staff to be digital; Empower our patients and their carers to engage with their cancer care; Re-fit our EPR to achieve better outcomes and experiences for our clinical teams; Harness data and intelligence to drive forward our operations, clinical service innovation, and research.”

Corrina Hulkes, chief nursing, midwifery & AHP information officer at London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Looking forward to 2024 for London North West Healthcare Trust, we are still working on stabilisation and ensuring good adoption, but also with an eye to optimisation as we receive feedback from our end users. For myself as CNIO, the priorities going forwards are to optimise the workflows for nurses, midwives and AHPs. We have both a local and a sector wide nursing documentation governance and standards group to review all documentation and how it is being used. And having just implemented a 3rd party care planning solution, we look to make the most of this tool in reducing unnecessary burden and documentation for nurses. Ensuring the documentation carried out is efficient and reflects our professional standards.”

Jill Watson, senior IT project manager, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, added: “The programme plan for 2024 is already full of exciting new developments. Moving into January, Gateshead FT will be the first to start work on sharing maternity data from BadgerNet, and then once live and sharing, there is a plan to onboard the rest of the 7 Trusts.

“GP Connect is also planned to go live in early 2024, with the first phase providing standardised HTML reports from across all primary care services. The second phase to GP Connect will provide structured data, including documents, consultations, medications and allergies.

“We are also excited to announce that Tees Esk & Wear Valleys FT will start to implement their data sharing, which includes a considerably broad range of data, and complete both Mental Health Trusts sharing data into GNCR. The programme will also continue to onboard Local Authorities, with the plan to start seeing data from Gateshead Council, South Tyneside Council, Hartlepool Council, Westmorland Council and Cumberland Council (formerly Cumbria County Council).

“In Q2/Q3 2024, the aim is to upgrade the system to include the capability to both consume and share data to the National Record Locator (NRL), this is also a national objective set out for all shared care records. To compliment the NRL, there are also opportunities being explored to retrieve reasonable adjustment flags (RADF) and child protection information.”

Dr Amar Ahmed, partner & GP trainer, Wilmslow Health Centre, commented to say: “We look forward to healthtech developments in the coming year that are using AI to improve efficiencies in primary care. A few products in the pipeline show much promise, for instance in reading, summarising and coding incoming documents. This could really help take some of the load off our admin and clinical staff as we receive increasing unfunded transfers of work from secondary care into primary care.

“We are also testing new EPRs which could break the oligopoly of EPR suppliers we are left with in primary care. Getting an up-to-date, cloud based, open-API EPR has the potential to revolutionise primary and community care in the coming years.”

Morgan Daly, digital strategy transformation lead, One Care, noted: “Our priorities for 2024 include continuing to identify and safely implement emerging tech and digital tools with our General Practice partners. This includes evaluating online consultation tools, examining the future of electronic patient record systems in General Practice, and continuing to support roll-out of Robotic Process Automation. Ultimately, we want to ensure GPs are making best use of the tools available to them to thrive, and to give the best possible care to their patients.”

Liz Leggott, project manager, greener NHS champion and NHS England clinical entrepreneur, South Yorkshire Primary Care Workforce & Training Hub: “Our hopes are that we will attract funding to create a Training & Simulation centre; if not, the very least we can hope for is to continue trialling the training and placement experiences that embrace technology and use it to increase capacity and quality of experience. We have many projects born out of that larger Innovation Centre project that we want to finish and begin to use properly and effectively. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan requires a new way of thinking and we believe this is it.

“I personally want to begin to tell others about our experiences, about our learning, and actually about our failures. Letting other people gain from our mistakes and learning points. I also want to further cultivate the partnerships we have with our local HEIs, MedTech companies, our ICS and the Health Innovation Network, which will only strengthen what we have and what we know.

“I think by adopting tech in training, we equip our workforce with more confidence and capability when it comes to adopting any technology that comes their way. We need to have a digitally adept workforce, so by embedding it wherever we can, we hope to effect that change.

“We feel we are effecting a change in process, in system and in culture.”

Lincoln Gombedza, practice educator facilitator, Practice Education Team at Harplands Hospital, North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare Trust: “Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, my digital health hopes and aims include:

  1. Advancements in AI: I hope for further advancements in AI, particularly in areas like predictive healthcare, where AI can anticipate health issues before they become critical.
  2. Nursing Documentation Standards: Improving nursing documentation standards using AI can lead to better patient care and efficiency. AI can assist in creating more streamlined and accurate documentation processes.
  3. Personalised Healthcare: The use of digital tools to provide more personalised healthcare experiences, tailored to individual needs and genetic profiles.
  4. Expanded Telehealth Services: Continued expansion of telehealth services to reach underserved communities, ensuring equitable access to healthcare.
  5. Integration of Wearable Technologies: Greater integration of wearable technologies in monitoring and managing health conditions, providing real-time health insights to both patients and healthcare providers.
  6. Focus on Mental Health: Digital platforms focusing more on mental health, offering accessible and anonymous support for those in need.

“These aims and priorities reflect a desire to harness technology for more effective, personalised, and accessible healthcare, with a strong emphasis on data security and patient privacy.”

Catherine Murphy, practice manager, Saddlers Health Centre: “For 2024: I am looking to continue to promote the use of online services, to continue to update the website on at least on a monthly basis, to increase our patients’ use of the NHS app, and we are in the process of contacting patients for them to provide an email address as a method of contact. To encourage patients to consent to the summary of care record and shared care planning, promoting graph net use with staff. To increase the number of appointments available to be booked online by patients through the relevant apps/website. To remind patients that they can be contacted via video consultation by the GP if required.”

Christopher Matthews, head of digital education and simulation, Education Directorate, Horizon Centre, Torbay Hospital, said: “In 2024, with regards to digital healthcare, we aim to broaden our engagement with trust staff and the wider community to support digital adoption. Through the development of programmes such as XR Deep Dives for clinicians and Digital Literacy Clinics open to all Trust staff, we are continually building on the offer we can provide. This is particularly important given the future implementation of an EPR, so during 2024 we will aim to provide support to build upon digital readiness for this system.”

Charlotte Brown, communications specialist at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, noted: “Lots of exciting projects are planned in for 2024, the first project will be expanding the use of our Electronic Healthcare Record, PICS, to our paediatric departments. Technical work to prepare PICS for paediatric patients has already begun and is near completion, from January 2024 staff will begin to receive training on how to use the system, then the system will be rolled in February/March 2024.”

Didi Craze, specialist communications midwife, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We will focus on launching the new staff app and continue developing the Microsoft Teams channels to create a one-stop place for staff to access information and updates. I am also keen to support staff who find digital access overwhelming and offer education sessions to demonstrate ease of access via our digital platforms.

“The overall aim is to keep refining the flow of information out to staff to make their time on digital devices more effective, and less overwhelming.

“And to keep widening the flow of communication back to the senior team so that staff feel able to raise concerns and share experiences of working on the ground, as well as their quality improvement ideas.”

Pam Pahal, digital transformation lead at Midlands Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust: “Expanding the use of the patient portal to support mental health transformation for children’s services. Using the portal to input leaflets for parents, which are easier to access and stored in one location. This will help improve children’s health and wellbeing.

“We will expand the use of the Patient Portal and look at integrating it with digital mail solutions to reduce the need to print physical letters that are viewed by service users in the portal. The money saved from printing can then be re-purposed into other areas that will provide better care for our service users.

“Expand the use of the Virtual Assistant across other service areas to give better accessibility to other MPFT services.

“To optimise our current EPR by integrating with other solutions that enable clinicians to have better access to the information they need, which will facilitate decision making. To ensure the workflows within our EPR are designed to optimise operational processes that enable valuable clinical time to be spent with our service users.

“We have approx. 30 projects to deliver in the next two years that will increase the digital maturity of our primary EPR and the services that use it, along with tackling convergence from multiple systems to help create a single, shared patient record where possible.”

Nickee Smyth, implementation programme manager, Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust: “There is no decrease in demand for our services as we move into 2024. As a Digital Healthcare Team, we are passionate about collaborating with partners at a system level, making our digital solutions as effective as possible and creating new opportunities for clinical and operational advancement. From a Cheshire & Merseyside perspective, our priorities lie with ICS PACS and LIMS programmes and the continued development of our Patient Engagement Portal which is linked in with the national Wayfinder project.

“We are committed to empowering our patients to take greater responsibility for their own care through functionality that allows them to manage hospital appointments, digitally view their letters and clinical records and provide their data to us remotely.

“On a more local level we continue our journey of minimising paper within the organisation, improving care and increasing efficiencies across the trust. Our move to a new data warehouse – expanding out to all of our corporate areas is keenly awaited, taking our Business Intelligence to the next level and helping to further drive decision making. Generative AI technologies provide exciting opportunities for the immediate future, identifying key areas for safe deployment is firmly on our agenda in the months to come.”

Ben Panton, senior digital business development manager, NHS Arden & GEM, noted: “Supporting primary care teams will continue to be a high priority for 2024. People will be all too familiar with this sector’s key challenges including demand pressures, workforce retention and patient access requirements. Digital tools and solutions can not only help to address some of these challenges but also enhance patient experience and generate capacity and efficiency opportunities.

“Through our collaborative dialogue with GPs and Primary Care Networks, we are looking at how we assess digital maturity and optimise our use of technology. This covers everything from ensuring that basic infrastructure and training is in place through to greater adoption of tools such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The benefits here are not just in terms of efficiency, capability and interoperability but also in improving work/life balance for staff by using digital to release time for more valuable, patient-facing activities.”

Richard Pratt, Three Spires Medical Practice: “2023 brought with it  a new dawn of AI with solutions such as ChatGPT into our lives, 2024 will see this expand into an exciting new chapter of AI in healthcare. Understandably, there has been hesitancy to embrace AI solutions immediately, with questions being asked regarding safety, data governance, data-set bias, efficacy and more, but we are running out of time and need to tackle these issues and blockers to progress.

“As a PCN, we are involved as an NHSE Digital Neighbourhood, who will embrace an AI tool for risk stratifying patients and identifying those patients at most risk of admission to hospital.

“There has been an upsurge in beta testing of co-pilot offerings which are likely to start to gain real traction in 2024. Long before AI replaces a human clinician, it will become instrumental in augmenting our effectiveness through streamlined admin processes. Co-pilots that can act as assistants: pulling together summaries of medical histories; ordering a set of blood tests with a single voice command; or automatically dialling up the next patient in a busy duty list of ring backs. All will offer the marginal gains that will make the lives of busy clinicians better, and thereby allow them to care for patients more sustainably.”

The digital health team at Isle of Wight NHS Trust, shared their plans, including: “Implementation of call centre functionality; Further asset tracking and potential patient tracking; Installation of new air conditioning and UPS in the main Data Centre; Relocation of the Cloudian backup solution; Setup of backups and replication to Azure Cloud; Integration of new Edge network security; Setup of new virtual firewalls for streamlined network security; Implementation of soft phones for enhanced end-user communication mobility; Patient clinic location improvement through guest wireless; Extension of 6GHz wireless connectivity for improved speeds; Management of power consumption on the wired LAN; Efficient use of power and air conditioning units in the main Data Centre; Relocation of A0 (Network core) to the Main Data Centre for reduced footprint.”

We would like to thank all contributors for their time, and look forward to following these developments through 2024 and beyond.