Parliament signs off abolishment of technology unit and transfer of duties and data sets to overarching national body
Health service leaders have claimed that the merger of NHS Digital into NHS England – a process which has now formally completed – represents a singular opportunity to ensure technology and data plays a central role in the UK’s healthcare system.
The draft regulations that legislate the merger have now been approved by parliament and took effect from yesterday, as was scheduled. The legislation provides for the abolishment of NHS Digital and the transfer of all its duties to NHS England, as well as systems and data sets.
NHS Digital’s interim CEO Simon Bolton announced in November his intention to step down once the merger had been completed. His final act in post was to flag up the union of the two organisations as an “opportunity to put digital at the heart of the NHS and build on what we’ve already achieved at NHS Digital”.
“Technology and data are helping to improve people’s lives every day, whether ordering a repeat prescription through the NHS App, getting the latest health advice from the NHS website, or arranging a Covid vaccine using our national online booking service,” he added. “We’re proud to be making a real difference to both colleagues in the NHS and the people that it serves. The merger will help us continue that journey as one central organisation, using digital to transform the NHS and provide the best care possible for patients.”
Alongside the statutes formalising the merger, draft guidelines have also been published setting out the expanded national body’s data-protection obligations – which are intended to “ensure at least the same degree of protection, level of safeguards and transparency over data use” as NHS Digital provided in operation as a stand-alone entity. Now the merger has been rubber-stamped, this guidance is expected to be finalised “in a reasonable timeframe”, according to the NHS.
The formal completion of the merger comes in the same week as the publication of a major plan to tackle the emergency-care crisis which set out measures including the creation of more virtual wards offering at-home care, and an expansion of the NHS 111 service to incorporate new digital channels.
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Digital, data and technology already underpin so much of our personal and professional lives. Harnessing the enormous potential they hold will be key to supporting our continued management of and recovery from the pandemic, delivering on our Long Term Plan, and making services better and more sustainable – crucially in ways that support staff to do their best work, and deliver more convenient services for patients. Our colleagues from NHS Digital bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise, and a track record of delivering major data and digital projects and services, which will continue to be invaluable in our aim to help the NHS transform and improve the health and care of the people it serves.”