NHS ‘Exemplar’ Trusts To Lead Digital Transformation

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Government promises up to £10 million for 12 trusts to further develop digital expertise and pass it on to the rest of the NHS

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced new funding to develop advanced digital practices at 12 exemplar NHS trusts as part of a wider plan to improve digital skills and technologies across the healthcare service.

The plan, which comes in response to a review headed by University of California professor Bob Wachter published to coincide with Hunt’s announcement, will also see an expansion of the NHS’ 111 non-emergency health line and the Choices website.

Staff training seen as key

“Bob Wachter’s excellent review made it clear that digitisation is as much about people as it is technology, and that this is a real opportunity to improve patient care for the long term,” said Hunt, speaking at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester.

“We want to fast-track existing digitjeremy huntal excellence, as well as nurture new skills and expertise that we will need to deliver a new breed of digitised services.”

The report, Making IT Work: Harnessing the power of health information technology to improve care in England, summarises the findings of the National Advisory Group on Health Information Technology in England, formed last year to advise the NHS England and the Department of Health on digital projects.

The review found that a target of making the NHS paperless by 2020 was “unrealistic” and instead recommended a phased approach that would initially focus on honing the digital practices of select trusts that are already well-positioned to implement new technologies.

That would be followed by a second phase intended to ensure new technologies are more generally implemented across the NHS, concluding in 2023.

“We have set 2023 as a reasonable goal to have robust clinical information systems implemented in all NHS trusts, along with a high degree of interoperability,” the report said.

‘New generation’ of CIOs

The 12 selected trusts are to receive up to £10 million each and are to be paired with an international organisation of their choice to take advantage of its expertise, Hunt said.

The funding will in part be used to improve staff training and to back a “new generation” of chief clinical information officers in driving the implementation of new technologies.

Hunt also outlined a plan for a new academy dedicated to training NHS staff in digital skills, saying universities would be invited to host the facility.

He said the government would make available further funding for another 20 trusts to become national exemplars, receiving support from the new academy and up to £5 million each to back digital projects.

The initial 12 exemplar trusts are: City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust, Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust, Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Luton & Dunstable University Hospital NHS Trust, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Hunt said.

Digital access revamp

Hunt also announced new digital services scheduled to go live at the end of next year including an expansion of the NHS 111 phone line to include an online triage service for less serious health problems.

NHS Choices is to be relaunched as NHS.UK with a wider range of services, including the ability to register with a GP, see and book appointments, order and track prescriptions and access personal health records.

NHS England is to launch a library of NHS-approved mobile applications for monitoring and improving their health, while the MyNHS website is to provide more data on the performance of health services.

Analysts Kable said the announcement indicates the government is committed to building on the NHS’ existing digital successes.

“The range of sites chosen highlight that spectrum of different technological solutions types that are viable within the NHS and which will have flow-on effects for the wider NHS through lessons that will be learnt within the centres,” said Kable analyst Neha Ralhan.

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