The government’s plans for the NHS, laid out in the NHS Long Term Plan, seem promising for driving digital transformation in the NHS – yet the plans for the NHS to be paperless by 2020 are still far from being achieved. In this article we take a look at how the new plan may help make digital transformation a reality, whether the investment that has been committed is enough to make that change, and how it will benefit healthcare professionals and patients.
The primary focus
When it comes to NHS digital transformation, general practice has been at the forefront of driving tech services - online patient services, electronic prescribing and online consultations naming just a few initiatives in the past few years.
Dr Brian Fisher, Clinical Director at Evergreen Life and GP in London, comments “General Practice is probably the most tech-enabled health sector– and the Plan intends to enhance that. The £4.5bn a year investment in primary and community care focuses heavily on digital services that will benefit both patients and practices.
It’s great to see there is a focus on personalised health through technology – by giving patients access to their full record, and enabling them to use online services, this can help alleviate pressure on GPs and the practice, as we have seen with the use of the Evergreen Life app.
The Plan appears to enable the influx of private sector primary care companies directly into the NHS to offer online clinical services in the form of online consultations to NHS patients. “Over the next five years every patient in England will have a new right to choose this option, usually from their own practice or, if they prefer, from one of the new digital GP providers.” This would have a most destabilising effect, but it is in line with government policies.”
The NHS app – will history repeat itself?
"The investment planned to deliver information digitally via the NHS App however seems misguided as the NHS have attempted previously to implement its own systems which have repeatedly failed to deliver. There is little actual need for this app, as many of these services are already being provided by other health apps including Evergreen Life. Rather, there needs to be more focus on integration layers between other apps to connect all health data, and more needs to be done to signpost people to the services already available to them. We are committed to developing the best person-facing e-health services anywhere.”
Does it work for the workforce?
Digital transformation is not just about the systems in place – the workforce within the NHS needs to be geared up to be connected and able to use the services. Dr Fisher comments “the emphasis on primary care and mental health funding is vital for practices – having more community-based physical and mental health services will also help support Practices signpost patients to relevant services. The investment will hopefully provide more GPs, and more community nurses, including health visitors.
The Plan does not include any detailed workforce plan, which is a huge gap – though it says this will be completed later. We still lack a plan for social care which will have an additional impact on primary care when it is released in Spring. Making sure that the workforce is engaged when implementing digital transformations is also key to seeing any significant uptake from patients.”
Is the plan for everyone?
At Evergreen Life we believe that everyone should own their own health information in order to get the health and wellbeing they want – we call it People Powered Health. And the NHS Long Term Plan appears to address that, as all local health systems will be expected to set out during 2019 how they will specifically reduce health inequalities by 2023/24 and 2028/29. Dr Fisher comments “It’s good to see a focus on this area, which has had little regard in the past. There may be a welcome impact of this on primary care, with better services for the homeless and people with learning difficulties and a strong message on mental health. However, the solutions to reduce inequalities are probably out-of-date, and, with the agenda on prevention, this may actually increase inequalities. We will watch with interest the updates in this area of reducing inequalities and making health services and information available to all."
Is the investment enough?
The Plan is hugely ambitious – so is the investment planned enough to deliver? Dr Fisher comments “Whilst the plan is well-intentioned and highly aspirational, sadly this will unlikely be enough money to make all the transformations laid out - as the NHS has been de-funded for over ten years already.
Overall, Evergreen Life welcomes the Plan. It is hugely ambitious, but in general, it offers healthcare professionals and patients a brighter future, with emphasis on getting the right health information at the right time for all to improve health outcomes. Evergreen Life will be on that journey hand-in-hand with the NHS to help get the best possible health and wellbeing for people.”