Will the rapid growth in use of technological solutions within the NHS persist beyond the pandemic? On the basis of recent policy statements, it appears so.
Stubbornly hard to shift for many years, the door to the widespread adoption of digital technologies in the NHS was seemingly blown open by the pandemic, as hospitals and clinics scrambled to find new ways of treating patients.
Since then, we’ve seen the expansion of virtual models of outpatient care as well as increased use of wearables and other remote monitoring for people with long term conditions and residents in care homes.
There has also been a nationwide roll out of Covid Oximetry at Home services – which use oximeters to monitor oxygen saturation levels – and more ‘virtual wards’ enabling those recently discharged from hospital to be checked on remotely.
These all look and feel like ‘gateway projects’ paving the way for wider and deeper use of digital technology across systems. Yet the key question is whether this momentum will be sustained: as the pandemic recedes, will we see the pace of change slow?
Certainly, the two most influential documents shaping the NHS’s future – the Government’s white paper and the NHS’s own operational planning guidance – suggest otherwise.
In the former, the government states that a headline aim of these reforms is to “use technology in a modern way…as a better platform to support staff and patient care”. It explicitly commits to legislate for “more effective data sharing” to “enable the digital transformation of care pathways”.
The latter contains further specific instructions to NHS organisations to use technology as a means of supporting recovery. It calls for ‘smart digital foundations’ to be established within Integrated Care Systems, with all systems being asked to begin procuring shared care record systems to go live in September. A fuller “roadmap” for developing data sharing at population health level over time should be in place for every system by next April.
Even more tangible is the demand for providers to ensure at least 25% of outpatient appointments are delivered remotely in order to be eligible for a share of the £1 billion recovery fund. And elsewhere, it asks for all systems to have “a strategy and effective leadership” for digital mental health specifically – in particular, ensuring that digitally-enabled therapies are rolled out where appropriate.
The heightened emphasis on digital transformation in these documents should come as no surprise – pandemic or no pandemic, this is an essential part of the Long Term Plan vision. Yet these statements only serve to underline the fact that advanced use of technology is now woven into the fabric of NHS policy-making, locally and nationally.
And this means that any supplier who grasps the nettle by incorporating smart, workable digital solutions into their offer is likely to put themselves at an advantage.
Oli Hudson is Content Director at Wilmington Healthcare. Go to www.wilmingtonhealthcare.com