Sajid Javid image
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced a number of digital reforms to deliver benefits over the next 10 years that facilitate faster and more personalised health and social care.

Plans include the rapid expansion of the use of technology like remote monitoring and virtual wards to: drive efficiency, free up hospital space and clinician time, save the health and social care systems money, and tackle the COVID backlogs.

Published yesterday (29 June 2022), ‘A plan for digital health and social care’ sets out the UK Government’s ambitious vision for transforming health and care with digital technology.

Importantly, the plans highlight the crucial use of remote monitoring technologies in NHS and social care settings to improve efficiency and free up frontline workers’ time.

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By increasing the availability of remote monitoring – where patients can use technology to keep an eye on their condition from home – a further 500,000 people could be better supported by March 2023, DHSC says.

Over 280,000 people already used remote monitoring at home and in care homes for long-term conditions in the last year, freeing up hospital beds and saving clinicians’ valuable time. This has resulted in improvements in patient outcomes with problems picked up earlier, shorter stays in hospital, and fewer admissions in the first place.

In one example, the plan describes how implementing digital and remote technologies could help a man named Abdul to live independently at home. It says by using a smartwatch to alert the social care team when he has a fall, the team could send an ambulance to his home so that he is admitted to hospital quickly.

With a digital health and social care record, clinical teams could easily update Abdul’s records and notify his family of any changes in care. Health and social care staff could be discreetly updated of any changes in care too, meaning Abdul would not have to repeat himself to different staff members, making the process faster and easier.

In addition, DHSC’s reinforces its commitment to having 40 to 50 virtual ward ‘beds’ per 100,000 of the population by March 2024, which was initially detailed in NHS England’s priorities for 2022-2023. Further guidance has been issued to ICS leads on implementing successful virtual wards.

To further free up clinician time, patients will be able to complete their hospital pre-assessment checks from home across the country by September 2024.

The plan additionally details how DHSC will improve access to information for people and their care teams through the NHS App and NHS website, resulting in faster, more personalised treatment. This includes bringing information together into the app and enabling people to view and manage hospital appointments, have virtual consultations, and see notifications from their GP.

£2 billion has been earmarked from the spending review to help digitalise the NHS and social care sector. The plan aims to help achieve that aim by rolling out electronic patient records in the NHS to drive efficiency.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are embarking on a radical programme of modernisation that will make sure the NHS is set up to meet the challenges of 2048 – not 1948, when it was first established.

“This plan builds on our data strategy to revolutionise digital health and care, which will enable patients to manage hospital appointments from the NHS App and take more control of their own care at home, picking up problems sooner and seeking help earlier.

“Ensuring more personalisation and better join up of the system will benefit patients, free up clinician time, and help us to bust the COVID backlogs.”

Alongside investment in technologies, the plan underlines the need to invest the digital skills in the health and social care workforce, and DHSC is developing a national digital workforce strategy to bridge the skills gap and ensure the NHS remains an attractive place to work.

Other ways the government will invest in the workforce will be embedding digital skills into educational settings for the future workforce, expanding the specialist data and technology workforce by creating an additional 10,500 positions, and offering accessible training and online resources to staff to increase digital skills.

The publication of the plan for digital health and social care follows the publication of ‘Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data’, which unveiled £25 million to digitalise health and social care records.

Dr Layla McCay, Director of Policy at NHS Confederation, commented on the new plan: “NHS leaders welcome the digital health and care strategy and see it as an important step in joining up health and social care records digitally under one roof. This is essential for enabling better system working and will allow vital data to be shared more widely, helping staff to deliver better care for patients.

“The plan presents an exciting opportunity not only to expand access to care via digital channels, but to accelerate the adoption of evidence-based technologies that will help make care more preventative, personalised and empowering for patients.

“The task ahead will be challenging and must be done carefully not to exacerbate inequality. It’s important that investment in IT infrastructure for the NHS continues and that systems are supported to implement these changes as they work hard to tackle the care backlogs. We hope that the forthcoming digital workforce strategy will help address recruitment and retention issues whilst making the NHS an attractive place to work for digital professionals.”

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