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07 Sep 2023
by Alex Lawrence

Government responds to the Health and Social Care Committee’s report on digital transformation in the NHS

Published on 5th September, the Government has now responded to the Health and Social Care Committee’s report on digital transformation in the NHS [June 2023].

The Committee’s report set out recommendations across four areas:

  1. Innovation in Digital Healthcare
  2. Systems and Interoperability
  3. Training and the Role of the Workforce
  4. Digital Exclusion

The Government response largely welcomes the Committee’s recommendations, and states that 31 of the commitments within A Plan for Digital Health and Social Care, and 59 of the commitments in Data Saves lives, have been completed.

Below we have outlined key aspects of the Government response of interest to the digital health and care industry. If you would like to get in touch about any of the following topics, please reach out to a member of the team below.

Innovation in Digital Healthcare (NHS App)

The Government largely agree with the Committee’s recommendations, stating that the current package of work is focussed on removing legacy IT systems, fostering innovation through new developments to the NHS App, supporting digital maturity and interoperability between systems, and upskilling the workforce. The response states that a roadmap for the future development of the NHS App is now published quarterly (this can be found here).

There are six key focus areas for the App:

  1. Enabling people to be able to see new information added to their GP health record.
  2. To book and manage their hospital outpatient appointments.
  3. Modernising the digital prescription service.
  4. Creating condition-specific hubs for assured digital therapeutics.
  5. Enhancing and extending the use of messaging.
  6. Improving navigation to appropriate services.

The response states that “this work sees a step-change in the NHS App by leveraging this channel as part of the NHS’s core service offer for people in England.” Currently, there are concerns among digital health providers that the NHS App will not be adequately interoperable with existing solutions. techUK is working with members to explore this issue.

Systems and Interoperability

techUK welcomed the recommendation in both the Hewitt review and the Committee’s report that the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England (NHSE), and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) should develop a standards framework to be adopted by all ICSs in order to improve interoperability and data sharing.

The Government response sets out that the obligations of data controllers towards each other and users of the care system are covered by a range of statutes and regulations, with the Health and Social Care Act imposing duties on care providers to give “due regard” to relevant information standards. The response also states that the draft Standards and Interoperability Strategy (fed into by techUK in Spring 2022) will be published in final form in Winter 2023. techUK’s Interoperability Working Group is providing input on the final iteration of the Strategy, in which substantial changes are expected. Please reach out to [email protected] if you have any questions or contributions.

The response also sets out that the Government’s priority for the coming year is to establish a national federated network of Shared Care Records so any authorised professional will be able to access the records of patients regardless of where they live in England. They are also encouraging systems to explore ICS-wide solutions to support integrated care and, as part of the Frontline Digitisation programme, are working to build an England-wide community to share best practice. techUK strongly welcomes this commitment, having called for such a community to be led by NHS England in our 2022 report Right from the Start. It is important that industry have the opportunity to form part of the community, sharing examples of best practice partnership working.

Training and the Role of the Workforce

Following the Committee’s recommendation that the Department apply to implement the DDaT Pay Framework for NHS England DDaT specialists to allow additional pay measures, the Government has clarified that the Agenda for Change (AfC) framework does currently allow for certain pay flexibilities.

Setting out the full complexity of the problem, the response states that a broader approach is required to find a solution. The upcoming National Digital Workforce Plan will set out additional actions over the next 5 years to build the capacity of Professional Digital, Data and Technology skills, and Clinical Informatics skills across health and social care.

techUK’s Health & Social Care Council has been working with the National Workforce Board to feed into these plans and techUK is keen to feed into the development of frameworks to guide local industry placements.

We also fully support the Government’s assertion that digital should be understood as a thread that runs throughout healthcare, and therefore integrated throughout wider learning programmes.

Digital Health Technologies

The Committee recommended that DHSC and NHSE introduce a more comprehensive accreditation scheme for third-party healthcare apps, in which it is easy for people to check whether a healthcare app that they are using or considering is recommended by the NHS. This recommendation is supported by techUK, including that the scheme should be supported by public communications that promote the benefits of digital healthcare, which formed part of our recommendations in the Ten Point Plan for Healthtech [2021].

The Government response outlines why the decision to close the NHS Apps library and instigate the Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) was taken. It also outlines that although the NHS should not support or fund digital health technologies that do not meet these standards, the DTAC is not an accreditation scheme.

The response makes two key commitments:

  1. A directory of products meeting DTAC standards is planned for late 2023/24.
  2. NHSE and DHSC are working towards publishing a curated selection of digital therapeutics through the NHS App and other national digital channels. When the first therapeutics are available, there will be public-facing messaging to encourage the usage of the technologies via the NHS App.

techUK has been calling for adjustments to the implementation of the DTAC to make it fit for purpose. These include:

  1. Ensuring there is the capacity and skillset within NHS Trusts to complete the assessments.
  2. Reducing the duplication of effort; due to multiple assessments of the same product being run across the NHS, there is a significant additional burden on suppliers, particularly SMEs. We encourage DHSC and NHSE to assess the feasibility of a passporting scheme.
  3. Addressing the lack of consistency in the interpretation of the DTAC from one NHS organisation to another, which means that you can be deemed compliant in one part of the system and not in another.

techUK will continue to monitor the commitments in this Response that are of relevance to members. If you would like to discuss anything mentioned, please reach out to a member of the team below. To receive further updates, sign-up to the newsletter below.

Health and Social Care Programme

With health and care systems around the globe facing increasing pressures, the use of digital technology has never been more important. Supporting a vibrant ecosystem with the potential to become a world leader, techUK is helping its members navigate the complex space of digital health and care in the UK and ensure our NHS is prepared for the challenges of the future.

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Interoperability Working Group

The Interoperability Working Group will work towards achieving the vision set out in NHS England’s 2022 draft standards and interoperability strategy. The group will aim to encourage the adoption of open standards and fluidity of data whilst recognising the commercial needs of members. It will also focus on demonstrating the value of interoperability to NHS senior management and improving the abilities of SMEs to implement interoperability standards.

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Alex Lawrence

Alex Lawrence

Programme Manager, Health and Social Care, techUK