Government publishes a plan for Digital Health and Social Care

England

Introduction

The Government have published a Plan for Digital Health and Social Care (the “Plan”) in England that aims to ensure that the NHS is ‘set up to meet the challenges of 2048, not of 1948’ in the words of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid. The Plan indicates how the Government will seek to digitise health and social care in order to seek to provide a firm foundation for the future.

Background

The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England have made digital transformation a top priority to ensure the long-term sustainability of the system and provide better outcomes for patients. The Plan consolidates previous investments and national digital goals published separately into a single document, focusing on four main areas. 

The intention is that the system will be equipped to:

  • prevent people’s health and social care needs from escalating;

  • personalise health and social care and reduce health disparities;

  • improve the experience and impact of people providing services; and

  • transform performance.

The Plan in Summary

As detailed above, the Plan focuses on:

  1. Equipping the system digitally for better care
  2. This includes digitally supporting diagnoses, digitising health and social care records and the creation of a life-long, joined up health and social care record, all with the aim of building strong digital foundations.

  3. Supporting independent healthy lives
  4. This section focuses on increasing digital health self-help, therapies and diagnostics and scaling up the functionality of the NHS App and website in order to put more NHS services in people’s pockets, all with the overall aim of giving people more control over their lives.

  5. Accelerating adoption of proven tech
  6. The Plan aims to encourage the better buying of tech across health and social care to ensure that products meet the required standards across a range of important metrics such as clinical safety, usability, interoperability, sustainability and cyber security. As part of this, the Government are seeking to set and enforce clear standards and also leverage the NHS’s scale to contain costs. This section also includes detail on systematising tech research and development partnerships to better support collaboration between frontline staff and tech businesses.

  7. Aligning oversight with accelerating digital transformation
  8. In order to ensure that digitisation targets are met, the Plan seeks to include digital transformation in oversight arrangements by enforcing standards (both technical and data) for tech suppliers and the healthcare sector, using regulatory levers through exploring potential oversight options with the Care Quality Commission and NHS England and supporting social care to ensure that it too has the right foundations to enable digital transformation.

The Goals

The above actions are designed to meet three goals: to Transform, Digitise and Connect. Under each of them are targets, including for example 75% of adults registered for the NHS App by March 2024 and 100% of NHS trusts with electronic health records by March 2025.

Conclusion

The Government acknowledge in the Plan that over the last 20 years there have been numerous attempts to digitise health and social care from which much can be learnt. It also highlights how the pandemic has increased digitisation at a rapid pace, giving a glimpse of what is possible for future of health and social care. Moreover, the inclusion of targets will also clearly demonstrate progress (or lack thereof) towards the Plan’s stated goals.

Article co-authored by Jake Sargent, Trainee Solicitor at CMS.