Digital Health Service

“By 2024, secondary care providers in England…will be fully digitised, including clinical and operational processes across all settings, locations and departments”

― NHS Long Term Plan pg99,

These are unprecedented times for the United Kingdom. The coronavirus pandemic is having an extraordinary impact on the National Health Service and its staff as well as on all parts of government, society and the economy. The effects will last long after the pandemic has subsided.

A new report by NHS Providers says that digital transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic has been impressive but now needs additional investment and clear policy support if it is to be sustained.

“Spotlight on… digital transformation” says innovation has been at the heart of the coronavirus response, with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency.

The report highlights how NHS organisations have accelerated the adoption of new technology and digital solutions as a key part of their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It states that in the face of an unprecedented pandemic “staff are going above and beyond” by using digital to find new ways of working.

Examples cited include the rollout of virtual consultations, the scaling up of existing electronic patient record systems, and the deployment of Attend Anywhere and Microsoft Teams at scale across the service. Trusts have deployed telemedicine as well as virtual visiting

How was this urgent transition to a more holistic way of digital working experienced from the NHS trenches? In this Breakfast Briefing #13, led by Peter Lunio, director of Golden Marzipan and with our guest speaker Paul Brown, NHS CFO @ Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent CCGs, he reflected on the key trends he has seen accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paul Brown, CFO at Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Clinical Commissioning Groups explained how the financial system the NHS works in has changed due to COVID-19 but also inefficiencies being made across the health system.

The Future was Now

For the NHS, though, this meant more than leaving the paper behind. According to Dan Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, “health leaders tell us that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a digital revolution with the creation of shared care records, a wholescale shift of GP appointments ”.

Such a rapid, drastic turn would only be possible thanks to a real, well-planned digital revolution and further financial support for the big heroic institution. The NHS Long Term Plan of 2019 had already contemplated the integration of technology, prioritising the role of NHSX on accelerating digital transformation.

Alongside this, the leading initiative involving the Global Digital Exemplar programme is showing that NHS hospitals can effectively deliver top-notch digital systems to make a difference in their patient’s lives.

Let’s see some of the digital improvement opportunities and challenges that are particularly relevant to the NHS as mentioned by Paul. 

Tackling the Challenges

Digitising the NHS during the last few years has been, therefore, an important part of national policy. However, rapid digital improvement and digitising health care in practice has proven to be a real challenge.

Crucially, as Paul pointed out, “in pre-COVID-19 times, we were digitally behind the times”.  As he continued, “we had a huge amount of digital power not being used to full effect.”

Long queues, interminable waiting times on the phone…The rationale behind this digital transformation was to offer a level service to customers to match the frantic reality and heavy pressure that the system was undergoing.

“After a few storms, we are very close to that point now”, said Paul referring to exploiting the full benefit from digital systems. As part of this challenge, like Paul exemplified, “we’ve created an integrated system with shared-patients records; the same concept of linking the NHS number and the primary and secondary-care interventions and referrals electronically, which is absolutely essential”.

Closing the digital gap: Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions research suggests that without additional investment in digital transformation, most trust won’t meet the expected level of digital maturity by 2024.

A Place to Start
“A the (COVID-19) Pandemic continues to spread, thousands of companies are now thankful for their successful digital transformation strategy while many others are in great agony of not doing it correctly.”
― Enamul Haque, Capgemini.

As mentioned in the “Digital transformation in the NHS Report” from May 2020, almost “£8.1 bn is the estimated cost of the updated digital transformation strategy, the great majority to be spent between 2019-20 and 2023-24.”

“We are in a much better place now than before we started”, stated Paul, “but I guess we haven’t made that leap”.

Finally, investing in sustainable digital maturity and good timing should be factors to consider to apply in our organisation’s risk management and financial plans. 

The Future Still Looks Bright

As we’ve witnessed, this has been the biggest opportunity for the NHS in the last decade.

Now it’s time for us to identify our chances of transformation by using the resources at our disposal as effectively as possible. Combining this mindset with the implementation of affordable technologies will mean achieving the full digital health-check for our organisations.

A possible future is outlined by the virtual GP Health provider Babylon, it provides remote consultations with doctors and health care professionals via text and video messaging through its mobile application. Their subscription business model for private healthcare services was launched in the UK in 2013.

Users can send questions or photos to the company’s team of health care professionals  Alternatively, users can hold video messaging consultations with a clinician to answer questions for common medical topics such as fever, sore throat, allergies, skin irritations, and colds. This service also allows users to receive referrals to health specialists, have drug prescriptions mailed to the user or sent to a pharmacy or to consult with therapists to discuss topics such as depression and anxiety. In situations where a physical examination is required users can book health exams and nurse appointments.

As opportunities keep opening up, the social housing sector should also take advantage of re-evaluating what’s next for the business with a great dose of realistic positivity. That’s the best medicine.

“NHS trusts are not always able to meet the expectations of staff and patients in the twenty-first century in regards to digital. But by continuing to build on the momentum created as a side effect of the pandemic, and through continued financial support, digital transformation can be achieved at pace.” Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers

After all, what’s is preventing us from self-prescribing a bit of faith in a better future?

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