Government must address past mistakes to digitally transform the NHS

The government’s ambition for digital transformation in the NHS can only succeed if ministers address the mistakes of the past, a new report from the House of Commons health and social care committee has warned.

The members of the committee found reason for optimism in the government’s approach, but their report cited evidence that parts of the health service still lacked even the most basic functioning IT equipment. Previous attempts at digital transformation have been thwarted by out-of-date ‘legacy’ IT systems and hardware unable to handle the demands of a modern digital health service.

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The MPs concluded that a shortage of skilled digital professionals in the NHS presented a barrier to digital transformation, with specialists able to command higher wages or better conditions in the private sector. The report called for additional pay and bonuses to recruit specialist staff.

The report also noted that many of the government’s plans on key objectives like reducing waiting lists and improving access to GPs relied on increased use of the NHS App. The MPs warned that the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England must clearly demonstrate the App’s continued value or risk a drop in the number of sign-ups, which risked frustrating these goals.

Steve Brine, chair of the health and social care committee, said: ‘We find reason for optimism in the government’s approach to the digital transformation of the NHS. We know that the NHS app was hugely successful during the pandemic and the government has big plans for it to do more to bring real benefits to patients.

‘However, there are major challenges to overcome. On a visit to the US, we saw digital patient records being used seamlessly in hospitals. Here, it can take more than 15 minutes for a clinician to turn on a PC because kit is outdated. The lack of skilled digital professionals is a further barrier. Until the NHS can offer higher salaries to compete with the private sector, it won’t be able to attract the people to deliver the transformation that’s needed to run a modern health service.

‘The long-term sustainability of the health service depends on getting this right but there will be people who decide that digital services are not for them, and we are clear that they should not find themselves excluded by future developments.’

The news of the government hoping to help the NHS become more tech-smart has come as authorities have announced that NHS Health Check are aiming to deliver one million digital heart checks across England from next spring, suggesting the journey to becoming more digital has begun.

Image: Sajad Nori


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