Refreshed NHS strategy names digital exemplars and pledges to encourage app innovation

Written by Rebecca Hill on 3 April 2017 in News
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Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View says the aim is for hospitals to choose a hospital they to work with - ‘not merely an IT vendor’

The updated strategy emphasises the importance of technology in making efficiencies in the NHS - Photo credit: PA

NHS England has published an update to its Five Year Forward View document that sets out plans for the NHS as it turns 70, focusing on the need to ease pressure on frontline services and make further efficiency savings.

The document, Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View, comes two-and-a-half years into the original five year plan and has sections dedicated to specific areas of healthcare, for instance urgent and emergency care, cancer and mental health.

In addition, there is a section focusing on making the best use of technology and innovation to speed up the transformation of the health service, which builds on the recommendations and pledges that followed the Wachter review into IT in the NHS.

This includes a push to offer people greater access to their medical records, improve online booking systems and encourage people to use more healthcare apps.

It also sets out the changes NHS staff can expect from an increased use of technology, as well as listing the names of the NHS Trusts that are to become digital exemplars


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The exemplar scheme, announced last year in response to Bob Wachter's review of healthcare information and technology, aims to boost funding for the most digitally-advanced hospitals to help them develop best practice guidance for others to follow suit.

“These organisations are the most advanced IT hospitals in the NHS and have committed to work to become world class exemplars for the rest of the NHS to learn from,” the document said.

“Their task is not only to become great, but to work with other acute trusts to develop a blueprint that can be deployed to other hospitals, reducing the time and cost for further adoption.

“Our intention is that, in the future, hospitals won’t merely choose an IT vendor, they will choose a hospital that they want to partner with and implement the same system, keeping the IT 80% the same and making only the 20% of changes that are absolutely necessary to meet local needs.”

The acute global digital exemplars include Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which last year signed a data-sharing agreement with Google’s artificial intelligence company DeepMind to create an algorithm that could help identify and treat kidney disease.

Each of the 16 exemplars is to receive £10m in funding for their work and will choose “fast followers” that will start working from the exemplars’ ‘blueprints’ as quickly as possible.

There will also be seven mental health digital exemplars, which include South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust.

In addition, the document said that there the digital academy for training the next generation of chief information officers and chief clinical information officers - also set out in the response to the Wachter review - would be launched by September 2017.

Elsewhere, the Next Steps document pledged that by December 2017 every A&E, Urgent Treatment Centre and ePrescribing pharmacy would have access to extended patient data either through the Summary Care record or local care record sharing services.

Patient impact

The document also sets out ambitions for patients to be offered quicker and easier access to their medical records online through the updated NHS Choices website - to be known as NHS.UK - which should be ready by September 2017.

The NHS is also planning to update its NHS 111 service, which allows people to call for health advice without dialling 999.

There are now plans to offer an online version of this service, and the document said that throughout 2017 there would be work to design online triage systems where patients can input their symptoms and get either online advice or a call back from a healthcare professional.

“We will be testing apps, web tools and interactive avatars in local areas and using detailed evaluation to define the best approach,” the document said. “By December 2017 all areas will have an NHS 111 online digital service available that will connect patients to their Integrated Urgent Care via NHS 111.”

Earlier this year, the prime minister announced a £67.7m investment in mental health care that included £300,000 funding to improve the mental health content on the NHS website, which has the similar aim of offering an online triage system as well as being a resource for digital therapies.

Patients will also be offered a directory of healthcare apps, and the latest document said that it would be launched this spring.

There will be at least 20 apps that fall under three sections initially, including one for NHS-approved apps that have a published evidence base that shows they do help people manage and improve their health.

NHS connected apps will be for those that have been tested and approved for connecting to NHS systems so you can download NHS information to them - an area NHS England said would “become vibrant during 2017 and 2018 as we make it easier for app developers to connect to NHS data sources”.

Finally, there will be a directory of other health apps people can choose from, and developers will be able to self-assess themselves against NHS criteria.

The document also pledges free WiFi in GP surgeries - this was rolled out in 1,000 surgeries in January this year and NHS England said this work would continue throughout 2017 subject to approval from the Treasury.

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