EHealth Insider has learned that NHS chief information officer Christine Connelly last month binned the Department of Health’s first “confused” stab at a new information strategy and has since been writing her own.
DH insiders say that as a result plans to publish a new information strategy have slipped several months; although ‘spring’ – the season the strategy was originally promised – can be argued to run until 21 June.
The first step, the DH’s response to the ‘Information Revolution’ consultation, is said to be imminent, with the actual strategy to follow. A supporting NHS technology strategy is promised by autumn.
The re-written strategy will focus on drawing intelligence and insight from the NHS’s existing data and shifting the NHS to “digital by default”, with far more consultations happening electronically rather than face-to-face.
Rather than set national targets it is expected to specify a handful of “symbolic acts” intended to provide points on which the health service pivots. One such act will be to publish prescribing data to a practice level.
Last week, Connelly told EHI that one of the messages that came through very clearly from the consultation was concern about a digital-first strategy worsening “health inequalities”.
Connelly said: “If you look at digital by default we’re fully supportive of that, but we don’t expect to replace face-to-face consultations for everyone. For a lot of things, I’d be happy to do digital stuff, but if I had a serious healthcare problem I’d want to be seen quickly.”
She said that most of the things the information strategy would recommend are already being done by parts of the health service. “You can see lots of people doing pieces of it already.”
She made clear that there would not be a single national plan, but will pick exemplars. “We won’t publish a detailed implementation plan for everything but we will choose a small number of things that will be ‘symbolic acts’.
“The government said in the Budget that it intended to publish prescribing data at a GP practice level; that is one example of a symbolic act. What people do with that data – and what it reveals – I can’t predict but it is likely to be disruptive.”
Personal Health Records are also expected to feature within the strategy, with a push to make them available to all patients and to enable patients to share them with charities and researchers.
They, in turn, would be able to gather information about NHS performance and treatment, improving the transparency and accountability of healthcare. The potential of information sharing to underpin medical research is also expected to be a central theme.
Connelly described the information strategy as “extremely exciting” and the reason she had taken the job as the NHS CiO two and a half years ago.
The challenge, she made clear, was to shape the future NHS rather than be trapped by the past. “We can’t be continually tied to a strategy that was set in place over ten years ago. We need to look ahead to what we need to achieve over the next ten years.”