From the beginning of the pandemic, digital and data technologies have played an important role in understanding the virus and its impact, in protecting members of the public and in helping clinical staff. I am very proud of the expertise, commitment and flexibility shown by our teams as we have worked to develop vital solutions at an unprecedented pace while insisting on the highest standards of usability, reliability, and information governance.
NHS 111 online and the NHS website were critical to preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed in March, to providing the information and guidance people needed and to getting those affected the treatment they required. Traffic on NHS 111 online rose to almost 950,000 sessions a day, but service response times and reliability did not suffer significantly.
Our product development teams worked hard to protect the public and frontline workers. In a matter of days, we built a ‘fit note’ service on the NHS 111 online platform that allowed people self isolating to get notes without contacting their GPs. We identified those most vulnerable to coronavirus and, by the end of March, nearly a million people were being protected by the government’s shielding programme.
In the succeeding weeks, we have delivered a steady stream of new services and provided direct support to help the NHS workforce and local organisations.
We’ve delivered flags on electronic records to ensure clinicians can see coronavirus related information about patients. We have provided remote working capabilities to help non-frontline workers contribute effectively from home. We worked directly with trusts as they built capacity, inventing new smartcard solutions so that returning clinicians could get to work quickly and providing hardware and network connections as new hospitals opened.
We have helped to moderate the devastating impact of this virus by creating the information needed to fight it. We rapidly assembled linked data sets to provide national early warning to help plan and manage NHS services and have worked quickly with leading research groups to put our comprehensive data sets at their disposal – while ensuring that data protection standards are maintained.
Our experiences over the past months have challenged how we organise our health system, our society, our economy and our lives in ways we could not have anticipated – but they have confirmed one thing we already knew. Digital and data technologies are crucial to the future of our health and care.
Three years ago, we began work to transform NHS Digital into the trusted technology partner the system needed. The past few months have demonstrated beyond any doubt the vital importance of our digital and data services to public health and effective clinical care. They have proved the reliability of our platforms and critical national infrastructure, even under extraordinary stress, and they have demonstrated the flexibility of NHS Digital’s teams as we delivered the solutions a rapidly evolving crisis demanded in days rather than weeks.
The fight continues. In the coming months, the work to protect people, support the frontline and inform research will demand the same energy, expertise and commitment we have shown since March. However, I would like, on behalf of the Board to take this opportunity to thank everybody at NHS Digital and in our partner organisations for what they have done, not only in response to coronavirus but in building and maintaining the infrastructure and capability that has allowed us to fully play our role during this crisis.