The energy and enthusiasm at last week’s NHS Innovation Expo was striking – lots of people wanting to exploit the potential of better digital and technology delivery to improve services to patients, to support new ways of providing care, to help save time and money to be spent on those most in need. With the NHS handling over 1 million patients every 36 hours, there is a real opportunity to improve people’s lives.
How are we doing when it comes to our digital services? 49% of UK adults access health information online and NHS Choices receives about 27 million unique visits every month. But dig deeper and you find information and services are often not joined up across a host of – around 3000 – NHS sites, many services could be improved and many things can’t be done online at all, such as (universally) registering with a GP. The last NHS patient survey found only 10.1% of patients ordering repeat prescriptions online and only 6.4% booking GP appointments. With 86% of adults using the internet, we could do a lot more to provide information and services that are simpler, clearer, better.
The National Information Board – which sets technology strategy for health and care– has recognised this, putting an improved central online offer, NHS.UK, at the heart of its plans for better patient facing services. If there’s one challenge above all – we need to deliver excellent online services by designing them for the people who use them rather than around the way we are structured. Digital services can cross organisation boundaries – whether local or national or health or social care. Jeremy Hunt has talked about a “patient-centric” and “more human” system. We should certainly be that online.
That’s where we come in. NHS England and the Department of Health have formed a small cross-system team to develop the vision for NHS.UK. It includes expertise from our own organisations, from the NHS Choices team at the Health and Social Care Information Centre, as well as people who have delivered excellent digital services in the Government Digital Service and elsewhere. We’ve set up on the top floor of Wellington House in Waterloo.
Over the next 12 weeks…
We will be mapping out how people find dealing with the health and care system in a number of condition areas. We’ll be talking to them and to front line staff about their needs. And we will be using that to identify opportunities for improved online information and services. We will prototype possible solutions and develop them further based on feedback from users.
We’ll be pulling together a detailed plan for how we could realise those prototypes – and the next phase of NHS.UK overall – in practice.
And we’ll set a plan on standards and guidance to help other teams to build great digital services on NHS.UK.
A 12 week project isn’t going to solve all the digital delivery challenges facing the health and care system. This is about setting a clear vision for NHS.UK, with prototypes that demonstrate the opportunities and a plan that gets us to the next stage. It’s also – to be frank – about increasing understanding of and confidence in a more “digital”, more agile, more user led approach in health and care. After the 12 weeks, we will be doing more work to learn and consult.
In how we’ve set up, we’ve tried to learn lessons from digital transformation projects across health and care and other public services. Common themes are – a team that works across different organisational silos and includes real expertise in digital delivery, policy and health and social care; an approach that is relentlessly led by user needs, both ‘end-users’ and health professionals, not by current constraints; the need to involve clinical experts throughout; and a clear governance structure and senior leadership.
One thing we’ve also learned over the last few weeks is just how many people are committed to improving digital health and care and want to help. That’s why we’ll be communicating about the project in the open, learning from colleagues and sharing what we’re finding. We’ll be speaking with lots of people, we’ll have a dedicated blog (you’re on it!) and we’ll be inviting a number of people to our team show and tells. We’ll also be tweeting using the hashtag #NHSalpha.
Please do wish us luck, and feel free to follow our work and share your own learnings – either by commenting below or emailing us.
Head of Digital Services, NHS England
Deputy Director (Digital), Department of Health