A report by public policy institute, Public Policy Projects (PPP) calls on the UK government to place digital innovation at the heart of reforms included in the recently published government White Paper, and galvanise the progress made during the Covid-19 pandemic if GPs, hospitals, community services, and social care providers are to work together effectively in the longer term.

The ‘State of the nation: Digitisation and medical technologies’ report includes 12 policy recommendations from the former associate chief information officer of NHS England, Dr Harpreet Sood; and deputy chair of the PPP healthcare and life sciences policy board, Nicola Baroness Blackwood. 

Published in partnership with Novartis, Cerner, Cloud Gateway, Siemens Healthineers, Nourish Care, and VitalityHealth, the report incorporated insights from three round table discussions and interviews with more than 70 leaders and expert representatives from policy, system leadership, front line care, social care, mental health, the third sector, and specialists in research, life sciences, digital health, and the tech sector.

The recommendations call for digital-based solutions to be central to the White Paper’s reforms, which include plans to modernise the health and care system to make it fit for the future and tackle the needs of communities to deliver higher-quality care in a system that is less bureaucratic, more accountable, and more collaborative.

The PPP report urges the government and NHS arm’s length bodies to use digital solutions to facilitate greater collaboration between health and care providers to benefit local populations, and add that that changes to system leadership pave the way for greater accountability of services.

The policy recommendations focus on driving substantive cultural and practice change towards digital-first healthcare provision, and include tech-based solutions to a number of significant issues currently faced by the NHS, including: placing digital innovation at the heart of healthcare reform; implementing a prevention-first approach; empowering patients to become informed co-creators of their own health; legislating better data access, interoperability and protection; and reviewing effective digital solutions used during the pandemic.

The report provides analysis concerning the current state of digital policy, performance of policy development against benchmarks, and delivery in the UK healthcare system. Specific exploration includes the practical short-term benefits of embedding digital enhancements to front line service delivery where improvements have been observed during the pandemic. Alongside these, the report provides a long-term vision for the transformational potential of digital and data enabled healthcare, outlining the key enablers, capabilities and partnerships that are required to make this a reality.

Sood said: “The NHS Long Term Plan and the health and social care secretary have both identified the crucial role that digital transformation will play in our ability to meet the health and care demands of the 21st century. However, the recently published White Paper highlights that there are still barriers to integrating technology effectively.

“The insight gained from the round table discussions and interviews revealed that there is a tremendous desire to embrace the new possibilities of enhancing health and care using technology and data. We need to remove the institutional and systemic barriers in working efficiently for patients and healthcare professionals and improve the widening health inequalities.

“The report calls for healthcare professionals, industry leaders, policymakers and the general public to think and act differently, looking to a future in which population health is empowered by innovative technology and data directs how healthcare is delivered in the 21st century. As our population continues to age, the digitisation of the NHS will enable care to be more joined-up and the structures in place to link health and social care to be drastically improved.”

Baroness Blackwood added: “The rapid expansion of new forms of system collaboration, and remote care experienced during the pandemic has heightened the need to rethink both the ambitions and plans for the digital and medical technologies agenda.

“The government will only be successful in its aims to enhance the current structure of the NHS, provide clear lines of accountability, and integrate health and care services if it ensures that digital innovation is at the centre of all health and social care reforms moving forward. The Department for Health and Social Care must build on the momentum generated over the course of the pandemic to drive substantive culture and practice change towards digital-first healthcare provision which is more proactive, predictive, and effective.”

Date published: February 26, 2021

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