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NHS staff will receive digital tools for patient care under long-term plan

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NHS England has pledged that health professionals will receive the digital tools they need in a bid to make digitally-enabled care “mainstream” across the country, especially those working in community settings, as part of its 10-year plan.

NHS leaders have claimed that over the next three years they want all staff working in the community to have access to mobile digital services.

The NHS Long Term Plan, published on Monday, has dedicated an entire chapter to setting out the plans for making digitally-enabled care “mainstream” across the health service.

“This plan offers a hugely exciting vision for the future of the NHS”

Sarah Wilkinson

The chapter, which reflects health and social care secretary Matt Hancock’s interest in technology, explains how the “technology revolution” in the NHS also needs to make it a more satisfying place for staff to work in.

NHS Leaders recognised that at present “too much” of the technology within the NHS was a “burden” on staff, noting how devices can be slow to log in to, clunky to use and unreliable in moments of crisis, said the plan. 

NHS England vowed to ensure that health professionals would have the “tools they need to efficiently deliver safe and effective patient care”, enable them to ”capture all health and care information digitally at the point of care”, and support staff to develop their digital skills.

Department of Health and Social Care

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock

It said: “We will support the workforce to develop the digital skills they need to make effective use of these tools and mobile access to digital services to allow health and care workers to work more flexibly.”

As part of NHS England’s move towards prevention and support, the plan highlighted that it would “go faster” for community-based staff, with hopes for all those working in the setting to have access to mobile digital services over the next three years.

The plan said this would include patient care records and other plans in a bid to help staff perform their role. Such moves would allow nursing and other healthcare staff to increase the amount of time they spend with patients and the number of patients they can see, it said.

NHS England also mentioned that ambulance services would have access to the digital tools they need to “reduce avoidable conveyance to A&E”.

Under the new long-term plan, NHS England has also promised an offering of a “digital-first” primary care option for patients.

According to the blueprint, some GPs are already offering patients quick telephone or online consultations, which it said helped to save time and travel.

“We know how challenging it can be for organisations to adopt new technology and digital systems”

Sarah Wilkinson

NHS England have now promised that, over the next five years, every patient in England would ultimately have the right to choose this option.

It added that this would typically be from the patients’ own practice, though they could have access to one of the new digital GP providers if they prefered.

The digital-first option will mean those who need to be seen by a GP can have “longer and richer face-to-face consultations,” it stated.

“Senior clinicians will be supported by digital tools, freeing trainees’ time to learn. When ill, people will be increasingly cared for in their own home, with the option for their physiology to be effortlessly monitored by wearable devices,” stated the plan.

It added: “People will be helped to stay well, to recognise important symptoms early, and to manage their own health, guided by digital tools.”

Other areas of care set to benefit from digital plans include maternity services, whereby the plan states in 2019-20, 100,000 women will be able to access their maternity records digitally, with coverage extended to the whole country by 2023-24.

The 10-year plan has also promised to work with the wider NHS, the voluntary sector, developers, and individuals in creating a range of apps to support particular conditions, noting that it would develop the “successful” diabetes prevention programme to “offer digital access from 2019”.

In addition, by 2020, the plan said it aimed to “endorse a number of technologies that deliver digitally-enabled models of therapy for depression and anxiety disorders for use in IAPT services across the NHS”.

Meanwhile, the new NHS App also got a mention, with the plan claiming the health service would “create a standard way for people to access the NHS”.

The app, launched last year and being rolled out gradually across England following a successful pilot, is intended to provide a simple and secure way for patients to access a range of healthcare services via their smartphone or tablet.

The plan explained: “The app will work seamlessly with other services at national and local levels and, where appropriate, be integrated into patient pathways.”

“We will create an open environment to make it easier for developers to build enhancements that support specific communities, conditions, demographic groups or languages,” it added.

In addition, as reported previously by Nursing Times, the secretary of state announced that NHS organisations will from 2020, no longer use fax machines to communicate with patients or other NHS organisations.

“All providers, across acute, community and mental health settings, will be expected to advance to a core level of digitisation by 2024,” said the plan. “This will cover clinical and operational processes across all settings, locations and department.”

“The potential of new technology, in support of new ways of working is exciting, but we should also acknowledge its limits”

Crystal Oldman

Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said: “The potential of new technology, in support of new ways of working is exciting, but we should also acknowledge its limits.

“The QNI has championed the value of new information and communication technology in recent years – it can unlock efficiency gains, staff productivity and improved personalisation of care,” she said. “This will be of growing importance to community nurses and their patients in years to come.”

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of the body NHS Digital, said: “This plan offers a hugely exciting vision for the future of the NHS.”

She said: “We are particularly pleased that the plan recognises the extent to which new and improved technology and digital services can enable many of the goals set-out, all of which we whole-heartedly support.”

NHS Digital

Sarah Wilkinson

Sarah Wilkinson

“Over the coming years, we in NHS Digital, working closely with our partners across the system, will work to make digital access to health and care services as pervasive as it is now across other sectors,” she added.

“A key focus of the technology and digital agenda, as with the plan overall, is allowing patients to better manage their own health and care,” said Ms Wilkinson.

“A broad spectrum of digital services will support individuals to take a much more proactive and responsible approach to monitoring their own health and well-being,” she said. “This, in turn, reduces the demand for health and care services.”

She said: “We know how challenging it can be for organisations, particularly those under constant pressure to deliver critical services, to adopt new technology and digital systems.

“We are completely committed to supporting NHS organisations on all aspects of this journey from technical education, to integrating new technology into services and care pathways to the design of highly usable and accessible patient-facing solutions,” she added.

The NHS Long Term Plan stated the following as “milestones for digital technology”:

  • During 2019 we will introduce controls to ensure new systems purchased by the NHS comply with agreed standards, including those set out in The Future of Healthcare
  • By 2020, five geographies will deliver a longitudinal health and care record (LHCR) platform linking NHS and local authority organisations, three additional areas will follow in 2021
  • In 2020-21, people will have access to their care plan and communications from their care professionals via the NHS App; the care plan will move to the individual’s LHCR across the country over the next five years
  • By summer 2021, we will have 100% compliance with mandated cyber security standards across all NHS organisations in the health and care system
  • In 2021-22, we will have systems that support population health management in every integrated care system across England, with a chief clinical information officer (CCIO) or chief information officer (CIO) on the board of every local NHS organisation
  • By 2022-23, the Child Protection Information system will be extended to cover all health care settings, including general practices.
  • By 2023-24 every patient in England will be able to access a digital first primary care offer (see 1.44)
  • By 2024, secondary care providers in England, including acute, community and mental health care settings, will be fully digitised, including clinical and operational processes across all settings, locations and departments. Data will be captured, stored and transmitted electronically, supported by robust IT infrastructure and cyber security, and LHCRs will cover the whole country
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