Government claims merger will improve data sharing across health service
NHS Digital is to be merged into NHS England in January – two months earlier than planned – in a move that the government claims will accelerate the benefits to patient of improved data sharing.
The technology agency, which has operated under its current name and since 2016, oversees national NHS digital services and the sharing and publication of health-service data. These responsibilities will formally transfer to NHS England in “early January” – at which point NHS Digital will cease to exist as a separate entity.
The unit’s staff and all other assets will become part of NHS England, “before going through the wider ‘Creating a New NHS England’ change programme” – a scheme through which national NHS organisations are expected to lose 6,000 to 8,000 workers, equating to between 30% and 40% of headcount.
The government said the programme intends to “ensure we retain the necessary talent and expertise of NHS Digital”.
The government claimed that moving NHS Digital’s remit to NHS England “will streamline data-sharing processes” across the health service. This, in turn, “will ensure patients get more streamlined care and can make more informed choices about how and where they access care”.
The government added: “The move will build on the huge progress seen on digital transformation during the pandemic, driving efficiencies across the NHS as evidence suggests digitally mature providers are 10% more efficient than their less digitally mature peers. Accelerating the transfer will lead to faster improvements in co-operation between the key digital bodies of the NHS by bringing them under one roof for the first time. This will ensure the health and care sector is fully equipped to face the future and deliver for patients.”
Patient data and other sensitive information will be given “the same protections” after the merger, including oversight from the watchdogs the information commissioner and the dedicated healthcare national data guardian.
The government said: “[This] will ensure there continues to be rigorous internal controls to ensure that data is used and shared safely, securely and appropriately to: deliver high-quality care; understand and protect the health of the population; effectively plan and improve services; [and] research and develop innovative treatments, vaccines and diagnostics.”
Under plans first announced in November 2021, Health Education England is also being merged into NHS England, which has already subsumed NHS Digital sister agency NHSX – which has become the in-house Transformation Directorate of NHS England.