The focus for technology in the NHS during 2022 was all about accelerating digital transformation, after the advances made in the previous two years in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
That hasn’t been helped by the wider turbulence in the UK government, with three prime ministers and a revolving door to the role of secretary of state for health and social care.
But the NHS is pressing on, looking to extend the digitisation of the health service, while seeking a politically, socially and legally acceptable way to use its vast store of personal medical records to unlock research into new treatments and techniques.
Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 stories about the NHS in 2022.
A £2bn investment in digitisation is central to cutting costs and increasing access to the National Health Service, according to the government’s latest announcement.
The government’s plan for digital health and social care promises more personalised healthcare and faster access to it. It said digital reforms could save billions of pounds for taxpayers over the next decade, as well as promote economic growth and private investment.
Technologies such as remote monitoring and virtual wards will also free up hospital space and time for clinicians, said the government.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has published a whitepaper outlining measures to improve the link between the NHS and social care, including technology-led initiatives such as digital care records.
Delivering the plan aimed at helping individuals receive “better, more joined-up care”, prime minister Boris Johnson said the plans build on the achievements of the national health system and local government during the pandemic. “We now want to build on these successes, joining up health and social care even more to deliver the best possible care, whether you want to see a GP quickly or live independently with dementia,” he said.
Safer use of patient health data will drive innovation in the NHS and improve healthcare, according to the findings of an independent review commissioned by the UK government.
The report by Ben Goldacre, Bennett professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, said the NHS could achieve better, broader and safer use of health data. His review took into account lessons from data use since the emergence of Covid-19, and set out 185 recommendations to the government, while providing advice on how health data should be utilised in the NHS.
UK health and social care secretary Sajid Javid set out a government target to have 80% of all care providers move away from paper-based records by 2024 ahead of broader digital health and care plans published this spring.
Announcing the goal at the Care England conference on 23 March, Javid said “digitisation in social care is not a ‘nice to have’; it’s an absolute necessity”. Acknowledging the culture change this will entail – around 40% of providers still work entirely in a paper-based manner – he said the health sector was also experiencing challenges in rolling out digital records, but providers would be supported.
Rolling out electronic patient record (EPR) systems to replace paper-based workflows is key to achieving the government’s plan of “joined-up” healthcare in the UK, but the current state of digital maturity across the health service is “patchy” at best, say senior NHS officials.
In February 2022, health secretary Sajid Javid outlined the government’s digital transformation priorities for the NHS, which included the ambition to have EPRs up and running in 90% of NHS trusts by December 2023. Speaking during Digital Health Rewired 2022, key figures in the NHS outlined how the roll-out of EPR systems would help underpin the organisation’s wider digital transformation efforts.
According to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO), work carried out by the NHS around the development of digital platforms and use of data and digital innovation was one of the key success factors behind the achievements of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The report evaluated the government’s Covid-19 vaccine programme, focusing on events up to the end of October 2021, and assessed whether the programme was well-placed to meet its objectives in full.
The programme spent £5.6bn out of total available funding of £8.3bn for the two years to the end of March 2022 to achieve its objectives. Considering the unprecedented circumstances and the programme’s achievements, the NAO concluded the initiative had provided value for money to date.
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid announced the government’s priorities around driving digital transformation in the NHS, in areas such as personalised care and the roll-out of digital social care records.
Speaking at an industry event on 24 February, Javid outlined the objectives around driving a “more inclusive digital health service”, with a series of reforms intended to benefit patients and staff by helping to clear the Covid-19 backlog across the system and eventually reduce waiting lists.
In addition to having EPRs in 90% of NHS trusts by December 2023, the government wants to push for a full adoption of digital social care records to tackle a reliance on paper-based processes.
The national digital platform aims to offer patients a digital front door to NHS and social care in Scotland, giving them access to their own health and care data online.
The NDP is a standard platform that can be built on by app developers and NHS organisations as they require. This means that as NHS and social care organisations across the country continue to increase their digital offerings, new services can easily be added to the platform and interact with existing systems and services, and reusable components can be shared.
The programme to create a federated data platform for the NHS must be clear and open with the public from the start, to avoid making the same mistakes as the failed Care.data platform, according to national data guardian Nicola Byrne.
The NHS federated data platform has been billed as an “ecosystem of technologies and services to be implemented across the NHS in England”, and an “essential enabler to transformational improvements across the NHS”, but critics have been sceptical about the plans.
NHS Digital (NHSD) has deployed a high-tech mobile health clinic to improve screening, testing and treatment of people in vulnerable, homeless and high-risk situations in London.
The Find and Treat van was implemented from University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and is part of NHSD’s Future Wireless Project trials. It aims to tackle infectious and chronic diseases including tuberculosis, Covid-19, Hepatitis B and C, HIV, cardiovascular issues, STIs and flu.
The technology fitted into the Find and Treat service is intended to enable real-time remote diagnosis and referrals on board the mobile health unit. It includes artificial intelligence software, a tele-radiology network to allow remote reading of X-rays using the trial’s flat-pack satellites, 4G and 5G routers, roaming SIM cards and smart antenna systems, as well as a digital portable X-ray camera.