A £2bn investment in digitisation is central to cutting costs and increasing access to the National Health Service, according to the government’s latest announcement.
The government’s plan for digital health and social care promises more personalised healthcare and faster access to it. It said digital reforms could save billions of pounds for taxpayers over the next decade, and promote economic growth and private investment.
Technologies such as remote monitoring and virtual wards will also free up hospital space and time for clinicians, said the government.
The NHS App, which will be updated with features to personalise care, and the NHS website will bring more information together so people can view and manage hospital appointments, have virtual consultations and see notifications from GPs. For example, by March 2023, it will be possible to book Covid-19 vaccines through the NHS App as well as the NHS website. App users will also receive NHS and GP notifications and messaging, and will be able to view and manage hospital appointments.
Meanwhile, the use of digital health and social care records will promote better information sharing between care teams, including increasing appropriate access to GP records, according to the plan.
The government also expects the increased usage of digital technology across the NHS and social care will improve efficiency and reduce the backlogs caused by the pandemic.
It estimates a further 500,000 people could be better supported by March 2023 through remote monitoring technology which enables doctors to care for patients in their own homes. According to the NHS, 280,000 people used remote monitoring at home and in care homes for long-term conditions in the past year. Patients will also be able to complete their hospital pre-assessment checks from home across the country by September 2024, according to the government.
It said these initiatives have freed up hospital beds and clinicians while in some cases improving outcomes.
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said the “radical programme of modernisation” will make sure the NHS meets its future challenges.
“This plan builds on our data strategy to revolutionise digital health and care, which will enable patients to manage hospital appointments from the NHS App and take more control of their own care at home, picking up problems sooner and seeking help earlier.
“Ensuring more personalisation and better join-up of the system will benefit patients, free up clinician time and help us to bust the Covid-19 backlogs.”
He added that frontline staff skills will be increased by developing a national digital workforce strategy, and that the government will increase its specialist data and tech workforce with 10,500 more positions.
Timothy Ferris, national director of transformation at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “By harnessing the power of digital and data, we can improve both how people access services and the way we provide care.
“Today’s plan for digital health and care sets out an ambitious vision for a future where the NHS puts more power and information at patients’ fingertips, and staff have the tools they need to deliver better and more joined-up services for those who need them.”
Julian David, CEO at IT industry body techUK, said the Covid-19 response has shown the scale of opportunities that digital, data and technology offer to address the challenges faced by health and social care.
“As the document makes clear, to deliver this vision on the ground, the NHS and social care will need to work closely with industry as true partners,” he said. “Only by doing so will we realise the true benefits of digital transformation.”
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said she welcomed a plan which “rightly signals digital transformation as a high priority within the NHS”.
“It also provides a much-needed clearer plan of action for NHS trust leaders as they support digital transformation in their organisations and their local systems,” said Cordery. “Trust leaders recognise the role digital tools will play in recovering elective performance and supporting the workforce sustainably.
“The investment previously announced in the spending review that it will begin to help trusts address some of the digital basics and foundations, however, trust leaders continue to feed back that funding remains one of the largest issues. Therefore, the department should accelerate the ways this funding reaches the frontline.”
Improving health and well-being
According to a survey of 2,000 people earlier this year, mobile health app adoption is on the increase in the UK, and users are reporting improving health and well-being.
The survey, carried out by the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps, found that 47% now use healthcare apps, compared with 38% last year.
Of those who use healthcare apps, 83% said they helped to improve their health and well-being, with more than one-third declaring the apps very helpful. It also found that people are regularly using them, with 75% doing so on a weekly basis and about half of these logging in multiple times a day.