Digital transformation in community health services

Report summary


Community providers, in common with all organisations operating in the health and care system, face significant challenges as they look to embrace the opportunities generated by digital transformation. Yet there are specific opportunities for community health services to deliver better care for patients and service users by maximising the use of digital technology. With a mobile workforce already comfortable with operating remotely, community health services perhaps have most to gain from a fast-evolving digital world that offers significant potential to change the nature of provision. Their flexible, community-based model of service provision is well-suited to testing small-scale innovations in digital.

Informed by case studies and a survey of leaders from within community providers, Digital Transformation in Community Health Services explores the challenges and opportunities presented by digital transformation within the community sector, and makes recommendations for how national NHS bodies and providers can work together to overcome barriers and achieve the full potential of digital innovation.

Key findings



With a mobile workforce and a community-based delivery model, community providers are well-placed to make rapid progress on digital development. It is clear that this would have benefits for patients and service users, as well as the delivery of more integrated and better value care. Most see the digital aspirations for the sector set out in the NHS Long Term Plan as achievable, but only a minority report seeing clear leadership on digital transformation, whether at system, region or national level. Similarly, there are cultural barriers to digital transformation, and community providers highlight concerns around broader staff engagement with organisations digital agendas.

Importantly, systemic issues are also preventing community providers from moving forward with their digital transformations, with the majority reporting that they had insufficient capital or revenue funding for digital transformation. This is particularly the case for community interest companies, and this inequity must be addressed. Lack of funding is viewed as having a particular impact on organisations’ ability to deliver interoperability and workforce development. There are also challenges associated with short-term funding opportunities, and the balance towards capital rather than revenue funding.

Community providers are enthusiastic about digital transformation and committed to maintaining and progressing digital improvements that have taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic. However there are clear barriers around leadership, organisational culture and funding that must be addressed to enable all community providers to achieve true digital transformation for the benefit of patients, staff and systems.


Recommendations for policy makers

Develop the national business case to invest in digital transformation in the community sector.

Clarify leadership and prioritisation of the digital agenda at regional and national levels within the NHS.

Deliver support for providers to develop digital capacity, capability and infrastructure.

Recommendations for community providers and ICSs

Promote the digital agenda across all levels of organisations and systems.

Integrate and embed the digital agenda within all parts of organisations and systems.

Work with regional and national bodies to share best practice across community providers.

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