NHS digital transformation needs “further work”

A new report suggests technological innovations implemented during the pandemic need to be improved before they're "locked-in"

Major technological innovations implemented in the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic need “further work" before they are "locked-in", a new report suggests.

The new technologies implemented by the NHS aim to reduce face-to-face contact and manage demand, such as video consultations, remote monitoring at home, and online appointment bookings.

A Health Foundation report, based on YouGov surveys of more than 4,000 UK adults and over 1,000 NHS staff, examined how  new technologies were being received - and found there's still work to be done. 

The research found that around three fifths of NHS users increased their use of technology to access care during the first phase of the pandemic and 83% of these viewed their experience positively.

However, when asked to compare this new technology to traditional care models, 42% said they made for worse quality of care. Because of this, the Health Foundation states that the technology implemented during the pandemic must be developed and improved more before the government locks in the new innovations.

Meanwhile, NHS staff stated that one of the top challenges for capitalising on recent technological progress was ensuring adequate IT and equipment and making sure technologies are safe and work for all types of patients.

Furthermore, the report found that while 49% of the public and 61% of staff thought the NHS should be looking to use technology-enabled approaches more in the future, a significant proportion of both public (36%) and NHS staff surveyed (31%) were unconvinced about the long-term use of these approaches.

Tim Horton, the Health Foundation’s assistant director of Improvement, said: “Given the immense pressure the NHS has been under, it is impressive that so many patients and staff reported positive experiences as new technologies were rolled out.

“However, the fast pace at which they were introduced means that important steps – such as evaluation and co-design with patients – will necessarily have been shortcut. As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, the NHS must evaluate and improve these approaches before locking them in for the future.”

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The report highlights that the government is looking at “locking in” the recent changes made and wants to preserve them for the long term. 

“The NHS has not yet ‘sealed the deal’ with the public on the future use of technology and further work is needed to address concerns and build trust in new technologies,” Horton added.

“While the speed of innovation has been hugely impressive, rushing to make these changes permanent without understanding more about their impact would risk holding back promising technologies from fulfilling their potential to improve care for every patient.

“Action is needed by the NHS and government, who have a critical opportunity to secure a positive health care technology legacy from COVID-19.”

In November last year, the health department was criticised for “track record of failed NHS digital projects.” A report published by the Public Accounts Committee called for the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS to move on from its decades-long legacy of “failed attempts” at digital transformation.

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