Ben Moody of techUK explains why the new NHS tech organisation has been welcomed by suppliers
Credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images
There is a dizzying array of public bodies in the English health system.
The sprawling organisational chart that starts with DHSC includes NHSD, NHSI and NHSE; though they should never be put in that order. Add in PHE, HEE, NICE, MHRA and the CQC; and CCGs, STPs and ICSs at a local level, and you are still just scratching the surface.
Thus, it may seem surprising that the launch of yet another body in this space, NHSX, has been greeted positively by suppliers navigating this complex landscape.
So, what is NHSX for? And why have industry welcomed its creation?
There are two ways of answering these two questions.
The simple answer to the former is in NHSX’s mission statement “to make sure patients and staff have the digital technology they need”.
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This is expanded with a list of responsibilities that includes: developing and mandating the use of standards; driving implementation; supporting the use of new technologies; reforming procurement; cybersecurity policy; and digital training and skills.
Of course, there are already bodies doing parts of this puzzle – but they are often disparate projects run by different organisations. Alignment and acceleration are incredibly difficult, given the number of stakeholders involved.
One of health secretary Matt Hancock’s first ambitions in the role was to get clinicians directly emailing information to patients to increase data security and reduce delays and waste. It took him months to get the right buy-in from all of the different public bodies in this space.
With NHSX, that complex landscape becomes one body, with a direct reporting line to DHSC.
Suppliers are hoping that NHSX also offers them a simpler landscape. A central body with an express remit to drive implementation and support the use of new technologies is a welcome development. And a coordinated and consistent approach to standards and procurement could make a huge difference to the level of investment and innovation in the health tech market.
The second way of answering the question of what NHSX is for is to look into the politics at play.
Hancock has been a breath of fresh air at DHSC. In putting health tech at the top of his agenda, he has set about tackling the single most difficult issue in govtech. The problems are well known, though perhaps more nuanced than the secretary of state’s summation that “NHS IT is rubbish”.
Tackling this is a long-term project and time is something Hancock does not necessarily have. Given wider events in Westminster, the potential length of his tenure at DHSC is hard to predict, and he is highly unlikely to match Jeremy Hunt’s five years in the role. NHSX gives longevity to the Hancock tech agenda long beyond any changes we may across Westminster.
July’s launch of NHSX will mark the beginning of a new era for NHS technology, that lends itself to all kinds of clichés about new dawns, false starts and proof in puddings. The plans are ambitious, and expectations are high. But the prize of a digitally enabled health and care service is one well worth pursuing.