A proposed £6bn cash injection in this month’s budget, to support digitalising the NHS will be vital to transforming health and care in the UK. Noel Gordon, Chair of the Telstra Health UK Strategic Council is keen to see more quick wins  in the sector and an acceleration of the reversal of a 72 year-old model that would allow us to bring the NHS to the patient  rather than bringing the patient to the NHS.

Noel, a former Chair of NHS Digital and former Board member of NHS England says: “The NHS has been slower to digitalise than other sectors such as banking, airlines and retail. Successful digitisation will help us overhaul how the health system has worked for the last seven decades, enabling greater accessibility, much better patient experiences and an ‘always on’ healthcare service.”

The move to digitise the NHS has never been more important than it is today in the wake of a global pandemic, which is bringing about significant changes in the way health care can be accessed, through virtual consultations and remote monitoring. The NHS is now heading to a new future where virtual care can be combined with physical treatment, dependent on the treatment pathway.

Noel says: “It’s a major breakthrough to be able to offer so many services at home that people would traditionally have needed to go to hospital for. There is an abundance of solutions available enabling the remote monitoring of patients, helping them manage their conditions and understand when they need to seek further treatment, which is particularly helpful with conditions such as diabetes, obesity, musculoskeletal, mental health and respiratory diseases.”

By combining remote management and care with improved communication through digital platforms the patient experience will be improved. We will also see simplified pathways for hospital-based care which historically relied on generating letters to trigger the next stage in the journey.

“Technology allows that process to be streamlined immensely. The future is about how we use digital platforms, analytics, cloud and mobile to make the patient experience far simpler, far more understandable and far more predictive and predictable,” says Noel.

Using data to find out who needs care, so we know where best to deliver it

Information and data analysis play a key role as they underpin the successful digitisation of the NHS. The production and analysis of good data provides insights into who needs care and where best to deliver it. Good information is critical to the NHS’s prevention agenda and to resolving health inequalities.

Noel believes the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out was a pathfinder in mobilising new channels to bring healthcare closer to the patient. Mobile units, community pharmacy, pop-ups,  high Street clinics and the highly successful NHS App have shown the power of omni-channel healthcare – and the public seem to like it.

Another example of a more omni-channel NHS  is the emerging network of distributed diagnostic centres for early detection of chronic conditions; following a review by Sir Mike Richards,  160 diagnostic centres may be built in a new network of ‘place-based’  community centres which recognise the need to ‘unbundle’ large acute hospital services and to dovetail access to health services into the regular flow of the way people live and work.

Noel observes: “Population health management is a vital new tool for the health transformation agenda and a breakthrough in managing patient ‘flow’ – the main headache of most health networks. In the face of a backlog of more than 6 million people waiting for treatment, and with ICSs assuming budget-holder status in April 2022, we have an extraordinary opportunity to harness the power of data, analytics and population health solutions to make the NHS work better for all geographies, all minority patient groups and all of our most urgent treatment pathways. We have the tools, we have a willing ecosystem of partners and we have the vision; now more than ever, the NHS has to deploy all the levers at its disposal to change the tide and make digital solutions a true partner in the transformed NHS.”