We must continue to build on the digital successes caused by the pandemic
06 October 2020
NHS trusts have accelerated the adoption of new technology and digital solutions as part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new briefing by NHS Providers highlights how acute, specialist, mental health, ambulance and community services have adapted and innovated in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, with staff going above and beyond to find new ways of working.
Our new briefing Spotlight on… digital transformation in response to COVID-19 showcases how innovation has been at the heart of the response to COVID, with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency. During this time, the national coordination and procurement process saw many trusts implement software such as Attend Anywhere and Microsoft Teams, while individual trusts launched their own digital solutions – leading to better patient outcomes.
This progress has been made possible because of the support made by the government and arm's length bodies. This has involved supporting the roll out of nationally procured software, making additional funding available, and advising trusts on complicated regulatory and policy areas. During the peak of the pandemic, trusts were given the means to invest in new tools.
But we cannot rely on the goodwill of frontline staff to sustainably create change. New conditions for success must be created:
- Funding must be made available through the comprehensive spending review for the sector to match its ambitious plans for digital transformation
- Nationally, the central leadership of NHS digital strategy, policy, operations and data collection should be clarified
- A balance must be struck between bottom up efforts to digitise services and top down efforts to coordinate services, procurement and implementation
- Trusts need a clear vision of 'what good looks like' in terms of digital transformation, and a clear road map for delivery
- Users of new digital solutions must be listened to so that local needs and preferences are heard.
If these conditions are met, the digital transformation of health services can drive improvements in care quality and outcomes, as well as enhance efficiency.
Commenting on the report, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said:
"Trusts have made rapid progress in a relatively short period of time on digital transformation. Our briefing highlights just some of the different ways health services are innovating while finding new ways of working due to COVID-19.
"For example, Alder Hey purchased 1,250 new devices for staff to use at home so that the team could deploy both telemedicine and virtual visiting across the trust, while South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust worked with local authorities to host a summit to look at what needs to be done to support local communities to prevent mental health crises.
"We have seen virtual consultations rolled out, the scaling up of existing electronic patient record systems, and the deployment of Attend Anywhere and Microsoft Teams.
"NHS trusts are not always able to meet the expectations of staff and patients in the twenty first century in regards to digital. But by continuing to build on the momentum created as a side effect of the pandemic, and through continued financial support, digital transformation can be achieved at pace."