NHS ‘technological foundations’ are in place for revolution, says chief exec

The leader of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, tells event that the health service’s use of technology is now at a ‘tipping point’, and is ready to ‘revolutionise our patient offer’

The use of technology by the NHS is now at a “tipping point” and is primed to “revolutionise our patient offer” and deliver lasting reform, according to the health service’s chief executive.

In a speech delivered to the recent NHS Confed Expo event, Amanda Pritchard said that “the post-Covid NHS is damaged but it is not destroyed; it is struggling but it is still doing incredible things, every day”.

These struggles will be intensified as the number of people living with a major illness is forecast to rise by 2.4 million in the next 15  years, Pritchard said, while cases of anxiety or depression are expected increase by four million.

“The NHS will need to grow,” she added. “But we can’t afford for the NHS just to grow. We’ll need to re-imagine, to do things differently.”

Alongside the health service’s Long Term Workforce Plan and a growing trend for NHS organisations to work collaboratively – with each other and with other parts of the public or third sector – Pritchard picked out tech as one of three core opportunities for innovation and reform.

The use of the NHS App by 34 million people – 75% of the eligible population – demonstrates that “we now have the technology that can support our ambition”, the CEO told attendees.

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“We’re also modernising systems that support staff,” she added. “Over 90% of hospitals now have modern electronic patient record systems. GP practices now have cloud-based telephony systems. Every hyper acute stroke unit in England now uses artificial intelligence to speed up care. And now, by rolling out the NHS Federated Data Platform (FDP), with 43 trusts already using it, we have a credible path to being able to connect the hundreds of disparate IT systems over the next few years, putting powerful tools in the hands of clinicians.”

The FDP has been the subject of much controversy and criticism since US big data firm Palantir was awarded the contract to deliver the platform – a decision that was described by medical unions and human-rights charities as “deeply worrying”. The event at which Pritchard was speaking – which was sponsored by Palantir – was disrupted by protests against the tech firm.

Looking ahead – and as the NHS seeks to “finalise the plans for additional tech investment from April” – Pritchard told attendees that “we are at a tipping point when it comes to tech”.

“We have a unique opportunity to build on what we already have, and truly revolutionise our patient offer, giving the public greater control over their health than ever before, and making it as easy to access support as it is to order your weekly shop,” she said. “As the NHS, we must always think at an individual level, to ensure we don’t leave people behind. And as the current cyber incident in south east London shows we also need to be vigilant to the global threats of an internet age. But the time to think big, and to be radical, is now, and if you do that, you will have our backing.”

The CEO added: “We have the vision to reimagine the NHS for needs of tomorrow, more resilient and responsive primary care, more integrated services delivered in the community. We have the opportunity, in our workforce plan, our technological foundations and scale, and in the relationships you have forged. We have the ability, to do what we need to do, supporting better leadership and management, becoming the fastest improving health service in the world, and backing innovation.”

Sam Trendall

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