Focus on digital basics.

NHS digital leaders have called on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Victoria Atkins to focus on digital basics for the service, such as modern infrastructure and networks, reliable laptops and wi-fi, and staff training, to help it better cope with unprecedented pressures.

In an open letter, copied to Shadow Secretary of State Wes Streeting, the elected leaders of Digital Health Networks, the independent community of local NHS digital leaders set out their five digital priorities for the NHS in 2024.

Improving Patient Care is at the key driving factor.

The priorities identify those steps current national policy leaders need to take in 2024 to better enable the NHS to adopt digital technologies to help improve patient care and identify the areas any future incoming government should focus on.

Significantly, none of the priorities are for a particular technology or platform but are instead about ensuring sustained investment core infrastructure, networks and hardware; predictability of investment and stability to enable effective planning; fewer short-term initiatives; meaningful digital workforce development; far greater focus on usability of systems; focus on improving data quality; and greater sharing of skills and knowledge.


Summary – Five digital priorities for 2024

1. Financial Predictability, Governance and Trust:

The first priority is a call for greater predictability of national funding and policy initiatives and a reduction in chronic short-termism on digital which is described as hobbling the ability of local NHS IT leaders to plan and deliver improvements to the NHS through digital. The future funding of electronic patient record systems is a significant concern.

2. Consistent Focus on Getting the Basics Right

The second priority is for a consistent focus on ‘getting the basics right’, and ensuring staff have access to the reliable laptops, networks and Wi-Fi needed to do their job in a modern NHS. This comes under the ‘smart foundations’ of ‘what good looks like’. Failure to invest in digital basics is failing clinicians delivering care.

3. Workforce Development and reducing Digital Burnout through improved User Experience

The third priority focuses on workforce-related issues, such as the Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) workforce plan, training, and digital literacy amongst staff, which is a major concern. It also emphasises the need to ensure the onboarding process for new staff, and HR systems, are up to date and user friendly.

4. Data, Shared Records and Interoperability

The fourth priority calls for greater focus on data quality, data asset management, data sharing, standards and data infrastructure. Data driven insights (FDP) and leveraging AI capability require good data asset management and support to deliver Trusted Research Environments.

5. Greater sharing of Skills, Knowledge and Experience

The fifth priority is for much greater sharing of skills, knowledge and experience on digital across the NHS.

The priorities were identified at an in-person meeting of the elected advisory panels of the CCIO, CIO and CNIO networks held in London on 8 December.

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