Specialist unit will lead NHS digital revolution

Health Secretary announces the finest minds in healthcare IT will come together to drive innovation and improvement across all health services

Matt Hancock, the new Health Secretary, has voiced his intention to promote the use of innovative technology in order to improve NHS services

The Secretary of State for Health and Care has promised to drive IT innovation and improvement across the NHS, ensuring ‘promising prototypes do not get stuck in endless pilots’.

I’ve made it my mission to get the best technology available into the NHS for one simple reason: the right tech saves lives, and makes life easier for staff

Launching a new central IT department, Matt Hancock told The Royal Society of Medicine’s Medical apps: mainstreaming innovation event: “Since I’ve been Health Secretary, I’ve made it my mission to get the best technology available into the NHS for one simple reason: the right tech saves lives, and makes life easier for staff.

“We must drive innovation and improvement across the NHS; combining the best of the healthcare culture with the best of the tech culture and seeking continuous improvement to save and improve lives.

Better tech to give doctors and nurses the gift of time so they can focus on what really matters: caring for patients. And better tech to give faster and more-accurate diagnosis and treatment so we can nurse people back to health sooner.

“It’s about ensuring promising prototypes don’t get stuck in endless pilots; and ensuring successful ideas spread from one hospital to another and from one trust to the entire NHS.

“It’s about building systems that can talk to each other and that new developers can build on; and making sure we get the basics right like data infrastructure and patient records.”

It’s about building systems that can talk to each other and that new developers can build on; and making sure we get the basics right like data infrastructure and patient records

With this in mind, Hancock launched a new specialist unit – NHSX – which brings together all of technology leadership from the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, and NHS Improvement into one place and setting national policy for NHS tech, digital and data and creating standards that work across the whole of health and care.

It will be led by the Government’s digital policy chief, Matthew Gould, and will have three initial priorities – Ensuring tech saves time for staff so they can focus on patients; giving patients the tools to access information and services directly; and creating a system that means patient information can be accessed, safely and reliably, wherever it is needed.

Hancock said: “I want us to create a culture that’s aspirational, hopeful, optimistic, and realistic; with the door always open to new ideas and new people and creating a diversity of thought, constantly welcoming innovators with an outward-looking approach: a microcosm of what excellence looks like.”

The use of consistent language for all computers so patient records can be shared easily is a priority, as is reducing the time spent transcribing notes.

And unique barcodes will be introduced for every piece of clinical equipment so that essential kit can be tracked in real-time, cutting waste and saving hospitals up to £3m a year.

We will empower the best digital minds in the NHS and create an ecosystem where healthtech entrepreneurs are actually excited about working with this innovative, creative, forward-thinking organisation called the NHS

“We will empower the best digital minds in the NHS and create an ecosystem where healthtech entrepreneurs are actually excited about working with this innovative, creative, forward-thinking organisation called the NHS,” said Hancock.

“And the needs of our users will be at the heart of everything we do because the ‘X’ in NHSX stands for user experience.”

He supported increased use of apps, with more than 70 already available on the NHS Apps Library, helping people with a range of conditions from diabetes to breast cancer, to mental health and pregnancy.

A further 100 are currently being assessed.

In addition, the Government is expanding the use of wearable monitors, initially helping people with type 1 diabetes to monitor their own care.

“We care about tech because we care about people,” said Hancock.

“That’s the mindset we all need to have in the NHS.

“For too many staff, outdated NHS tech is a hindrance rather than a help.

It’s vital we get this right and I’m confident that with NHSX bringing together and driving forward this tech transformation, we’ll start to create the culture change we need to see in the NHS: innovative, open to change, and forward looking

“It takes up time rather than saves time; and I understand the frustration. I know the systems of the past haven’t been good enough.

“But the right tech, working in the right way, can, and does, release time because good tech is seamless. It’s something staff shouldn’t even have to think about. The only thing staff should be thinking about is their patients.

“So it’s vital we get this right and I’m confident that with NHSX bringing together and driving forward this tech transformation, we’ll start to create the culture change we need to see in the NHS: innovative, open to change, and forward looking.”

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