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NHS Digital - our role in the health and care system

The role of NHS Digital

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner for the health and care system. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better for the care professionals and people who work in the service, and for the people who receive them.

Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better

We aim to:

  • ensure that every citizen's data is protected
  • establish shared architecture and standards so everyone benefits
  • implement national services to meet national and local needs
  • support care organisations to get the best out of technology, data and information
  • enable much better use of health and care information

Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts design, deliver and manage the essential technology infrastructure, data and digital services, products and standards that health and care professionals use every day to deliver better care. 

We have a unique statutory duty to help the health and care system drive greater value from the data and information it generates. The data and information we publish is used by commissioners to improve services, and by researchers to find new ways to prevent and treat disease. We must also ensure that the information we hold in trust for the public is always kept safe, secure and private.

We work in partnership with other national bodies and with those that use our data and services locally to deliver the quality and reliable technology of today while seeking to unlock the potential of the new, exciting and innovative technologies of our time.

The strategic context

Like all organisations operating in the health and care ecosystem and our partners, including local authorities for social care, we must support the NHS to address the challenges set out in the Five Year Forward View.

The way that technology and data are addressing these challenges is described in the National Information Board's Personalised Health and Care 2020 and aims to:

  • reconcile the growing demand for health and care services with reducing resources
  • focus on prevention, self-management and well-being in addition to treating ill-health
  • increase the personalisation of care and support services to empower the citizen
  • accelerate and extend the integration and devolution of services

The specific delivery requirements have been translated into a major portfolio of work for NHS Digital, comprising 33 new programmes grouped into 10 domains which will bring in an anticipated additional budget of £4.2billion over the next 5 years.

P2020-DomainsArtboard 2-800

This is a significant responsibility over and above our existing commitments and statutory duties. It requires NHS Digital to:

  • have access to the right skills and expertise, either directly or through partnering, to ensure we have the capacity and capability to fulfil these commitments.
  • improve our delivery model, by implementing the necessary foundations for a systematic approach to designing, planning, and implementing the commitments. Although the portfolio is grouped into domains that reflect discrete business areas for health and care, such as primary care, or urgent and emergency care, the requirements must be managed holistically, as they are intended to deliver technology services and products that work together across the health and care system to deliver integrated and interoperable services used by health and care professionals and by patients and the public.
  • ensure proper accountability for the delivery and adoption of the services and programmes, and work with national and local partners to ensure that they are used effectively.
  • have the skills and capacity to manage the increased contractual and commercial requirements that are being put in place to deliver the commitments. This includes around 150 contracts with a value of £200million that have been novated from the Department of Health into NHS Digital.
  • have effective corporate governance arrangements in place to instill confidence in our ability to manage the resources committed to NHS Digital to enable us to discharge our responsibilities.
  • operate under agreed system-level governance arrangements that are robust, transparent and effective for rapid decision-making, approvals and assurance.

At the same time, there are strategic agendas which will have material implications for NHS Digital. NHS Digital will have a major role implementing the recommendations from the National Data Guardian's review of security and opt outs. And we are working with national partners to develop a strategy for genomics that will have implications for what we do.

As a result of the Capability Review, we have set out a clear suite of recommendations to ensure we are 'fit for 2020'. All of the actions will be started in quarter 1 of 2017/18, and most will be completed by April 2018.

The following chapters summarise our diagnosis and commitments, in response to the headlines from the Capability Review, as described by our advisers in their summary report. The headlines are listed below.

Headlines from the Capability Review

Area Finding
National role and clarity of service offer Ambiguous expectations and blurred operational boundaries across the health and care ecosystem adversely affect NHS Digital's delivery performance. This has resulted in an inability to articulate a clear service offer with confidence. This creates confusion, undermines organisational credibility and limits customer satisfaction.
Customer needs and front line engagement NHS Digital do not currently maximise the value of every customer interaction by working collaboratively at the "front line" to capture intelligence and insight that focusses delivery on what matters.
Fostering innovation There is no industrialised organisational process for distilling insight into valuable solutions and introducing new ideas, products and services - through collaboration with customers and the supplier market - that address the fundamental challenges of the business.
Modernising data service The data services offered by NHS Digital have a large and varied audience. Feedback from customers was that these services were below expectations. Delivering better here will have the largest impact on brand and reputation.
Assurance and ownership alignment Inconsistent governance and assurance arrangements across critical internal and external stakeholder groups lead to uncoordinated management of portfolio level risk and delivery.
Strengthening cyber capability Although there has been a rapid foundational capability roll-out for cyber security, there is still opportunity to enhance and mature both internal and external cyber services.
Strengthening commercial capability Commercial capability is assessed as basic to average, with particular challenges around market data and insight, category management and corporate strategic supplier management. New digitally-networked market complexities need to be reflected in the speed and agility of commercial and procurement vehicles.
Workforce skills and agility An articulation of the impact of the future strategy on the workforce is limited. Capability imperatives have not been mapped against emerging delivery requirements, and limited use of alternative resourcing channels damages NHS Digital's ability to flex to meet changing workforce demands.
Digital culture and behaviours Historic skills requirements and established ways of working have too much influence on the organisation's behaviours. This impacts NHS Digital's ability to drive change at scale.
Modernising the internal technology landscape The business is using out-of-date technology in key areas and the adoption of innovative digital solutions and automation is often too slow.
Industrialising the delivery model NHS Digital has not defined its "business architecture" clearly enough - from high level system interoperability to the delivery models and technology blueprints which underpin them. Current operating structures are too isolated, compartmentalised and rigid for delivery across a multi-speed IT environment. Any new initiatives must be considered as part of an end-to-end, top-to-bottom value chain of interdependent activities.
Last edited: 4 October 2018 10:54 am