Public Services > Healthcare

Hunt commits £10m to NHS digital skills and services revamp

Neil Merrett Published 07 September 2016

Department of Health to establish 12 exemplar trusts to pioneer digital technology and skills best practice, while announcing new or revamped online services for patients


Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has set out aims to pioneer new technology services and improve digital skills across the NHS by establishing 12 ‘global exemplar sites’, as well as expanding NHS 111 functions and rebranding the organisation’s ‘Choices’ site.

Speaking at this year’s Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester, Hunt announced that the chosen exemplar trusts will receive up to £10m in funding to set out best practice for other organisations around digital technology and future training for staff to build up skills.

The proposals have been put forward as a response to a review by University of California Professor Bob Wachter into how computer systems were being used in the NHS as part of wider investment planning to create a paperless, fully digital UK healthcare system.

Wachter’s findings, released today, concluded that an intended target of creating a paperless NHS by 2020 should be regarded as “unrealistic”, with a focus instead looking at setting the goal of having all NHS trusts with a high level of digital maturity in the next seven years.

“We have set 2023 as a reasonable goal to have robust clinical information systems implemented in all NHS trusts, along with a high degree of interoperability,” said the Wachter review.

Hunt's response to the findings set out investment both for new technologies and infrastructure, as well as efforts to create a future generation of skilled digital professionals that will see universities being asked to host academies to train healthcare staff in key skills.

As part of the plans, organisations including University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust, and Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, have been unveiled in the list of global exemplar sites.

The remaining organisations included in the programme are:

  • Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
  • City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
  • Luton & Dunstable University Hospital NHS Trust
  • West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

According to Hunt, the proposals are intended to meet Wachter’s calls for a greater number of sufficiently skilled individuals with an understanding of technology in the NHS and wider care fields.

“We want to fast track existing digital excellence, as well as nurture new skills and expertise that we will need to deliver a new breed of digitised services,” he said.

“This means on the one hand giving pioneering NHS organisations the financial backing to unleash their full potential, while also making sure that we can build a digitally-confident workforce across the whole NHS.”

Digital service overhaul

Announcements were also made around a new tranche of online services such as GP registration, record access and health advice availability that will be implemented by the end of 2017, with a focus on mobile and tablet device functionality in particular.

These will include creating online triage services to help expand the existing NHS 111 telehealth service, which will then be trialled with clinicians.  In addition, the NHS.UK site is expected to succeed the popular NHS Choices site as part of a relaunch aiming to provide new functionality for patients such as tracking and ordering prescriptions and appointment booking.

The relaunched service will aim to provide performance information on local health services on factors such as dementia and diabetes care, as well as learning disability functions.

“Maternity, cancer and mental health data will follow later this year. In future, the revamped site will also include maps, graphs and tools so that patients can see how the performance of their local services has changed over time,” the department said in a statement.

Other commitments include allowing patients to securely download personal health records via the NHS.UK site, which will include information such as test results.

Neha Ralhan, a senior analyst specialising in healthcare for Kable, said that technology provides the single greatest opportunity to reform and ultimately strengthen how the NHS is able to care for patients.

“By choosing these 12 already technologically sound sites, the NHS is highlighting its commitment to building on existing digital success and assist in the speeding up of paperless 2020 incentives,” she said.

“In addition, the range of sites chosen highlight that spectrum of different technological solutions types that are viable within the NHS and which will have flow on effects for the wider NHS through lessons that will be learnt within the centres.”

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