The “success or failure” of the new models of care outlined in the NHS 'Five Year Forward View' depend on the contribution of healthcare IT, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told the crowd at the e-Health Week conference in London.
“Getting technology and information right over the next five years is going to be essential for the transformation that we need,” said Stevens, who took over as head of the NHS from Sir David Nicholson in April 2014.
His Five Year Forward View, published last autumn, sets out a plan to improve public health and introduce new, efficient service models to try and bridge the gap between flat funding and rising demand by 2020-21. This gap, known as the Nicholson Challenge after his predecessor, who first warned about it in 2008, could reach £30 billion without action.
Stevens reflected earlier speeches when he outlined four trends that technology is bringing to healthcare: greater use of data highlighting the need for more transparency; the personalisation of care, such as targeted cancer therapies; the need for a more anticipatory care model; and the transfer of power to patients rather than healthcare professionals.
“Put those things together then, that represents a dramatic sea change in the way in which healthcare is organised in most countries, including the NHS. Our task is to find a way of harnessing those four trends in a way that brings about improvement and puts us on the path to financial stability.”
Specific issues addressed by Stevens included the need to do more to improve hospital infrastructure, in particular with regards to electronic medical records and tackling interoperability in a systematic way.
“We have to harness the opportunity that information technology gives us to redesign care and fundamentally change the geographic structure of care so that things that previously required healthcare professionals to be on site can now be done in different ways and that in turns offers the opportunity for completely new ways of supporting people,” he said.
Stevens also referenced the relatively new National Information Board, which he said will help the NHS “get smart” about what infrastructure needs to be national and where local support is needed. The board published a new IT framework, 'Personalised Health and Care 2020' last year to indicate where IT could support Five Year Forward View policy.
Overshadowing Stevens’ talk was the prospect of the upcoming general election, which could see a radical shift in the way that healthcare is provided in England.
However, Stevens said he was confident that the plans in the Five Year Forward would go ahead no matter what party comes into power.
“What the NHS has done for the first time is we have set out our own stall. We have said to the country we think there is an underlying belief on how care needs to change.
"In particular we have to better integrate primary and specialist services, better integrate physical and mental health, and better integrate health and social care services.
“In order to do that we have to reinvent fundamental ways in which the NHS has worked while sticking to the core principles that it is a national health service.”
“In almost any scenario there are a number of broad changes in the Five Year Forward view that need to be brought about. This is not administrative restructuring, these are changes in the way we support patients and people of this country.”