NHS Digital’s progress hamstrung by ageing tech and culture clashes – report

Body publishes study encouraging better data services, increased commercial nous, and clearer articulation of role

NHS Digital needs to improve its “basic to average” commercial capabilities, the report said

Although NHS Digital has made some progress in its four-year existence, its progress is being hampered by ageing technology, a lack of high-level direction, and the unhelpful deployment of staff and resources, a report has found.

NHS Digital’s Fit for 2020 Capability Review report assesses the organisation’s progress in keeping pace with the wider health service’s Five Year Forward View plan for the half-decade period leading up to 2020. The work of the health and social care IT body has been measured against 11 key metrics.

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The report’s top-line findings were:

  • The clarity of NHS Digital’s role across England and the service it offers has thus far been hamstrung by “ambiguous expectations and blurred operational boundaries” throughout England’s health and social care services, and this “creates confusion and undermines credibility”.
  • NHS Digital’s work on the frontline of healthcare provision is being hampered by not working collaboratively enough or effectively gathering and analysing data.
  • Innovation could be cultivated better, but for the absence of an “industrialised organisational process for distilling insight into valuable solutions”.
  • Data services currently being offered by NHS Digital are “below expectations”. Improvements in the body’s performance against this metric “will have the largest impact on brand and reputation.”
  • The organisation suffers from “inconsistent governance and assurance arrangements” which cloud ownership and management models.
  • Solid foundations of cybersecurity have been rolled out quickly, but “there is still “opportunity to enhance and mature both internal and external cyber services”.
  • The commercial capability of NHS Digital is “basic to average”, with improvements possible in supplier management and the use of procurement vehicles.
  • NHS Digital has thus far failed to properly articulate “the impact of the future strategy on the workforce”.
  • The culture and behaviour of the NHS remain married to “historic skills requirements and established ways of working…  [which] impacts NHS Digital’s ability to drive change at scale”.
  • The IT and communications infrastructure of the health service features “out-of-date technology in key areas”, and there is slow adoption of digital and automated technologies.
  • The delivery model of NHS Digital is not close to achieving the industrialisation required to create real and lasting change. “Current operating structures are too isolated, compartmentalised and rigid for delivery across a multi-speed IT environment,” the report concluded.

The NHS Digital brand came into being last year. The organisation that bears its name was born in 2013 and was formerly called the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

NHS Digital is backed by over £1bn in Department of Health funding, and manages an annual operating budget of £250m.

Its website said: “Our goal is to improve health and social care in England by making better use of technology, data and information.”

Sam Trendall

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