Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled plans to “fast track digital excellence” today, including a further round of digital excellence centres and “instant access” to a personal online health record.
This comes in response to the release of Dr Bob Watcher's review of NHS digital health, released overnight, which focuses on the importance of clinical input in digital transformation.
In a speech at the Health and Social Care Expo in Manchester, Hunt said the strategy was focused on creating an "ivy league" of global exemplar hospitals and improving pateint access and control over their health information.
Among several announcements, Hunt named these final 12 trusts that will receive up to £10 million funding to become 'global digital centres of excellence' or ‘exemplars’ but said more could be added at a later date.
"The first thing we need to do is have a group of hospitals that by the end of this parliament, really do become world class… an Ivy League of hospitals."
These trusts will be linked to an “international organisations of their choice” to improve digital standards across the NHS. A statement from NHS England also incidated they would implement more modern clinical technologies, such as real-time video links to ambulances and mobile device-based systems for detecting conditions such as sepsis.
The excellence programme will be expanded with a second round of “national” excellence centres to receive up to £5 million of funding each, while Hunt also plans to set up a new “a new academy dedicated to training NHS staff in digital skills”. Hunt said the academy would be hsoted byt a university, which would be selected through a national competition.
In an earlier statement, Hunt said: “Bob Wachter’s excellent review made it clear that digitisation is as much about people as it is technology, and that this is a real opportunity to improve patient care for the long term.
"We want to fast track existing digital excellence, as well as nurture new skills and expertise that we will need to deliver a new breed of digitised services.”
Some of the policy announcements have been signalled previously and others were revealed in an “out-of-date” document mistakenly released by NHS Digital earlier this week.
Among the changes, are plans to revamp NHS Choices as NHS.uk. This policy has been signalled before and the NHS.uk. team have been blogging about the project since last year.
However, Hunt hopes the new NHS.uk will provide “fuller” services than NHS Choices, such as GP registration, appointment bookings, and e-prescription capabilities.
Most significantly, it will be the gateway to a new “instant access” personal health record, where patients will be able download their health information and check test results. This will be modelled on the “blue button” service in the US. Hunt said he intended to launch the service at expo 2017.
Hunt will also resurrect the NHS apps library, including providing NHS endorsement of wearables. It was not immediately clear how this differs from the four stage app endorsement process that Public Health England was developing but Hunt said a library of "approved apps" would be avaible from March next year.
"We are going to make a very big move in the next 12 months into apps and wearables…what is going to change with apps is how these apps linked directly into our own medical records."
Hunt will be hoping this attempt at app library proves more successfully than the last, which was shut down last year after it was revealed many of the endorsed apps might leak personal information and lacked evidence of effectiveness.
Other policies include expanding the use of NHS 111 service to include a new “triage service”, for less serious health problems, and better local performance information through the MyNHS website, available from today.
Hunt said the triage system would be available online, and would triage people if they did not require direct contact with a clinician.
"People Google their symptoms all the time but they'd like to have something trust and approve by the NHS."
Originally the government was to select just ten global digital excellence centres, however some last minute lobbying is understood to have led to some changes; with Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust not appearing in the final list, despite its reported inclusion in an earlier shortlist.
The new digital centres of excellence are: Wirral University Teaching Hospital, University Hospitals Birmingham, City Hospitals Sunderland, West Suffolk, Royal Free London, Oxford University Hospitals, Taunton and Somerset, University Hospitals Bristol, University Hospitals Southampton NHS foundation trusts, and Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals, Salford Royal Hospitals, Luton and Dunstable University Hospital NHS trusts.
Professor Keith McNeil, the chief clinical information officer at NHS England, indicated that the commissioning board hopes they will inspire others. "Our aim here is to create a national movement, of which the global digital exemplars are one important piece of the jigsaw," he said.
The government has previously stated that £100 million will be available for digital excellence centres, but it not yet clear whether further funding will be freed up for the next round.
Read more: We will be reporting from the Health and Social Care Expo throughout the day and tomorrow. There is more coverage of the Wachter review in news and on the CCIO Network. Keep up to date at Digital Health News.