Secretary of State retires NHS Digital and NHSX

The two technology arms of the heath service will be placed under one roof for the first time as part of a new Transformation Directorate

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced today that NHS Digital and NHSX are set to be bundled into one organisation within NHS England and Improvement (NHSE/I).

The move is part of developments in the NHS' wider digital transformation strategy and will see both digital arms of the healthcare body placed under the same roof for the first time.

NHS Digital and NHSX will form part of the new Transformation Directorate within NHS England alongside Improvement, and Innovation, Research, and Life Sciences, effectively retiring both brands as they are currently known.

The Transformation Directorate will be tasked with leading the digital transformation of the NHS at national and integrated care systems levels, with the move expected to reduce the NHS' lengthy waiting list backlogs and better support its post-pandemic recovery.

"To ensure our record NHS investment makes a lasting impact, I am bringing workforce planning and digital transformation into the heart of the NHS," said Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. "These reforms will support our recovery from COVID-19 and help us tackle waiting lists to give patients excellent care in years to come.

"I would like to pay tribute to all our colleagues at Health Education England, NHS Digital, and NHSX for the enormous progress they have made, which we will continue to drive forward with their help."

NHSX will evolve and take on a strategic function within the Transformation Directorate, but not all staff will move to the strategy team, an internal letter given to NHSE/I staff revealed yesterday which was first seen by Digital Health.

The letter was written by NHSE/I CEO Amanda Pritchard and said some NHSX staff will move to other departments within the Transformation Directorate such as the transformation teams of the CIO's function.

NHS Digital is the branch of the health service that oversees the IT needs of all healthcare providers in the UK, supplying technology where needed while also overseeing all the data across the organisation and consulting on cyber security matters.

It has been heavily criticised in recent years for several missteps including most recently its plans to share NHS patient data with private companies. NHS Digital was criticised for the move which led to a huge backlash and more than 100,000 opt-outs in May, prompting it to halt the divisive data strategy entirely.

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The department has also come under fire for repeated failed attempts at digital transformation, branded at the time as "expensive and deeply unsuccessful" in a report from the National Audit Office.

NHSX was created in 2019 by then-health secretary Matt Hancock to bring together tech leaders and healthcare experts to develop policies and innovations that accelerated the NHS' digital transformation ambitions. It has been heavily criticised in recent years for failing to deliver an effective contact tracing app during the pandemic.

Announcing the structural change, the government credited the two departments for their contributions to the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pair developed solutions that allowed patients to be monitored at home through virtual wards and also developed the NHS COVID Pass via the NHS app.

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