Clinical commissioning groups must work closely with all local health providers to develop and deliver local digital roadmaps, NHS Providers and trust IT experts have argued.

NHS England announced earlier this month that CCGs will take the lead on developing digital roadmaps, outlining how each local health economy will achieve the target of a paperless NHS by 2020.

CCGs, which will also manage any funding made available to support the ambition, have to submit these roadmaps to NHS England by April 2016 for publication in June next year.

Siva Anandaciva, head of analysis at NHS Providers – a membership organisation for NHS public provider trusts – said it was “sensible” that NHS commissioners are leading the plans for use of digital technology in local health economies. 

“However, it is absolutely essential that providers are genuinely consulted and appropriately involved in the development of these local digital roadmaps,” he added.

“Frontline providers of NHS services are the most stable and established part of the health system and work across multiple health and social care boundaries and geographies.

“The NHS provider sector has also shown it has the expertise, scale and experience to develop and deliver digital solutions for patients.

“Unlocking the benefits of a digitally mature health and social care system can only happen through greater engagement, alignment and collaboration between providers and commissioners.”

Speaking to Digital Health News Dr Tony Smith, clinical lead for IT and clinical safety officer at Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said he could understand why CCGs had been appointed to lead on the roadmaps.

“They are the natural organisation to look to when wanting to facilitate coordinated change regionally rather than centrally.”

He also argued that CCGs are particularly well placed to promote a culture of integration and data-sharing by commissioning providers to share information and defining the minimum datasets required.

However, he cautioned that one risk in a shift away from a centralised to a localised approach to IT planning is an increase in duplication across the healthcare system.

“One concern I have is that, without a coordinated approach, patients with several co-morbidities, managed by a few different providers, may need to negotiate multiple portals to access various bits of their information – without any source of a common truth. We have to avoid a proliferation of disparate patient portals,” Smith said.

He also warned that while CCGs “will need the input of all stakeholders for this to be relevant” there is a further danger of local healthcare economies having to “slow progress to the rate of the slowest organisation.”

In a comment to Digital Health News, Andy Kinnear, director of informatics and business intelligence at South West CSU, said he recognised some of the risks around CCGs leading on the roadmaps, but he was still “very positive” about the news.

“Many local chief information officers got frustrated with the National Programme for IT’s national-led approach, which failed to give the local health and care communities due recognition for their individual circumstances and also diluted the local responsibility for delivery.

“The digital roadmaps create a vehicle for local health and care communities to demonstrate their vision and plan their delivery,” he said. “We have been asking for this chance for a long time.”

Kinnear said that CCGs are “full of inspirational and visionary clinical leaders” who understand the value in “creating joined-up care” and will support a digital strategy to achieve that.

He added that CCGs will have support from CSUs, NHS provider organisations and local authorities. “CCGs will not be tackling this challenge on their own.”

Read more about whether CCGs are up to the task of delivering a paperless NHS in Features.