Most of the £1 billion promised for investment in health IT will be capital investment used to fund local transformation programmes enabled by technology, the interim chair of the National Information Board has said.

John Newton said the money will fund a substantial programme of work that will, “make a substantial difference to health and social care”.

Newton, who is also chief knowledge officer at Public Health England, took over as interim chair of the NIB following the departure of Tim Kelsey in December last year.

He told Digital Health News that the board’s programme of work received significant endorsement from government via the November Spending Review, which indicated investment of £1 billion in NHS IT over the next five years.

Life sciences minister George Freeman has said that the final figure will in fact be “quite a lot bigger”, but it is yet to be announced by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Newton said a lot of the extra money allocated to the NHS over this parliament, “will in fact be made available to support technology programmes”. Most will be for capital investment, but the final details are still being worked out.

“The work has been funded on its merits. People recognise we are living in an increasingly digitally enabled age and whole industries have capitalised on that. The NHS just simply hasn’t done that and so we are not getting the benefit that we could,” he said.

“If we’re serious about a digitally enabled NHS it’s got to be fully funded otherwise it’s not going to work."

He said the work of the NIB will be closely aligned with work at a local level to develop ‘local digital roadmaps’ and ‘sustainability and transformation plans’.

The roadmaps, produced by clinical commissioning groups, will outline how local health economies will become paperless at the point of care by 2020. They were originally due this April, but planning guidance released early in the year said new ‘sustainability and transformation plans’ would be due at the end of June. The deadline date for roadmaps has therefore been pushed back to allow it to become a “single programme” of work.

When the roadmaps were announced in September last year, NHS England’s director of digital technology Beverley Bryant said they would inform funding decisions for future dedicated technology funds.

However, it now seems there will not be specific ‘technology funds’, in the way they have been run in the past.

Newton would not confirm this, but said the focus will not be on technology, but on change to clinical practice and the systems that enable that.

“So the primary basis for funding allocation is to promote local transformation rather than on the merit of individual programmes,” he added, saying they are looking for clinically-driven solutions, rather than technology-driven.

While confirming that the same amount of investment will be available for the digital components, he said that by aligning with the STPs, they will see how the digital work relates directly to the transformation outcomes. However, he emphasised that this new focus on transformation would not take away from opportunities for digital investment.

“There’s still a distinct task to come up with the local digital roadmaps, but it needs to be completely aligned with the sustainability and transformation plan,” he said.

“We hope to provide clarity around details of funding as soon as possible.”

Read the full interview with John Newton in Features.