Innovation and changeDigital TransformationDigital features heavily in NHS Long Term plan

Digital features heavily in NHS Long Term plan

Long Term Plan promises use of artificial intelligence, genomic testing and digital GP appointments for all.

The NHS Long Term Plan, published today, places a heavy emphasis on the role technology will play in the development of the healthcare system.

The priorities outlined are largely a continuation of existing NHS IT programmes and align closely with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock’s tech vision, published in October – and many detailed priorities are a continuation of existing NHs Digital projects. However, the newly-published vision will likely lead to some existing NHS Digital projects being scaled back or discontinued.

This new NHS app, currently being rolled out across England does provide a focal point for many of the digital advances. The app aims to give patients access to a range of NHS services, including being able to book appointments, view their medical records, order repeat prescriptions, select their data-sharing preferences, organ donation preferences, end-of-life care preferences and access the NHS 111 online symptom checker and triage service.

The Plan states that a number of practical priorities will drive NHS digital transformation, namely:

  • Create straightforward digital access to NHS services, and help patients and their carers manage their health.
  • Ensure that clinicians can access and interact with patient records and care plans wherever they are.
  • Use decision support and artificial intelligence (AI) to help clinicians in applying best practice, eliminate unwarranted variation across the whole pathway of care, and support patients in managing their health and condition.
  • Use predictive techniques to support local health systems to plan care for populations.
  • Use intuitive tools to capture data as a by-product of care in ways that empower clinicians and reduce the administrative burden.
  • Protect patients’ privacy and give them control over their medical record.
  • Link clinical, genomic and other data to support the development of new treatments to improve the NHS, making data captured for care available for clinical research, and publish, as open data, aggregate metrics about NHS performance and services.
  • Ensure NHS systems and NHS data are secure through implementation of security, monitoring systems and staff education.
  • Mandate and rigorously enforce technology standards (as described in The Future of Healthcare) to ensure data is interoperable and accessible.
  • Encourage a world leading health IT industry in England with a supportive environment for software developers and innovators.

Patient focus

The Plan details how digital technology will provide convenient ways for patients to access advice and care. For patients and staff, the starting point is interoperability of data and systems. Then, building on progress already made on digitising appointments and prescriptions, a digital NHS ‘front door’ through the NHS App will provide advice, check symptoms and connect people with healthcare professionals – including through telephone and video consultations.

In addition, patients will be able to access virtual services alongside face-to-face services via a computer or smart phone.

NHS England will also continue to invest in the nhs.uk platform so that citizens can find helpful advice and information regarding their conditions.

Digital-first primary care

Under this Long Term Plan, digital-first primary care will become a new option for every patient. Over the next five years every patient in England will have a new right to choose this option – usually from their own practice or, if they prefer, from one of the new digital GP providers.

The report discusses how, In other walks of life, mobile phones and apps have already transformed services. New digital-first primary care is proving convenient and popular, and is bound to grow. There is also emerging experience that digital GP models can help expand the GP workforce participation rate by offering flexible opportunities to part-time GPs. The NHS will deliver on this new commitment through three approaches.

  • First, it will create a new framework for digital suppliers to offer their platforms to primary care networks on standard NHS terms.
  • Second, and in parallel, NHS England will ensure that new ‘digital first’ practices are safe and create benefit to the whole NHS. This means reviewing current out-of-area arrangements and adjusting the GP payment formulae to ensure fair funding without inequitably favouring one type of GP provider over another.
  • Third, it will review GP regulation and terms and conditions to better support the return to practice and increased participation rates by GPs wanting to work in this way.

The art of the possible

The report’s authors state that it’s easy to be cynical about the achievability of these big technology-driven shifts in outpatient care, but point out four reasons not to be:

  1. They are already happening in parts of the NHS, so this is clearly ‘the art of the possible’.
  2. There is strong patient ‘pull’ for these new ways of accessing services, freeing-up staff time for those people who can’t or prefer not to.
  3. The hardware to support ‘mobile health’ is already in most people’s pockets – in the form of their smart phone.
  4. The connection software is increasingly available for the NHS to credential from third party providers.

How has the sector responded to the NHS Long Term Plan? Click here to find out.

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