More commitment to funding digital technology is needed to “fundamentally change” the NHS, the chair of the CCIO Network has said.
Responding to the government’s announcement of a £1.8billion cash injection for more beds, equipment and additional wards, Dr James Reed said the “whole digital agenda” should feature in the new spending.
The newly elected chair of the Digital Health CCIO Network, said: “It’s always good to see investment in the NHS, although the details there are at the moment appear to be focused on large scale projects in a relatively small number of hospitals.
“Whilst these are clearly important, it would have been good to see a further commitment as part of this spending to invest in the technology needed to fundamentally change the way that work is done.
“We have benefited hugely from recent investments such as the GDE [Global Digital Exemplar] programme and I would like the whole digital agenda to feature in this new spending. It would be a missed opportunity if this money was spent on capital developments without associated investment in the staff and skills which will be needed to make the most of them.”
His sentiments were echoed by Digital Health CIO Network chair, Adrian Byrne, who said IT in the NHS needs “committed, ongoing funding”.
“Digital programmes have been cut back this year as the NHS was trying to control spend against budgets. This money being freed up may allow some programmes that had stalled to now go ahead,” the CIO at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said.
“It is, however, another example of a lump of cash, whereas the IT market continues to move towards a model of sustainability with committed ongoing funding.
“Whilst any investment is in digital is welcome, unless we can address the issue of technical debt that arises with this spend profile, we ultimately end up with a bigger problem.”
Some 20 hospitals are set to benefit from a £850 million funding package to upgrade outdated facilities and equipment, while a further £1 billion will boost NHS capital spending to tackle urgent infrastructure projects.
Chancellor Sajid Javid said: “This £1.8 billion for frontline services will not just go towards better equipment and technology, but important upgrades of hospitals across the country.”
But it’s not clear how much of the funding will be spent on digital.
The funding is in addition to the long-term spending increase announced last year worth £20.5 billion by the end of 2023 – an average increase of 3.4% each year.
There had been confusion on social media about whether this was new money or money that was already budgeted, but speaking at the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston earlier today Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the funding was “new money”.
“It’s money that wasn’t there 10 days ago,” he added.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, also confirmed it was new funding.
“As a result of this morning’s announcement, frontline NHS providers will be able to spend £1bn in 2019/20 on backlog maintenance and other capital spending that they weren’t able to spend last week,” he said.
“The department of health and social care’s capital spending limit will be increased accordingly and that will count against overall government capital spending limits. By our definition that is genuine, new, extra, money.”
Experts have welcomed the funding, but said more is needed to address the “woefully inadequate” spend on digital technology in the NHS.
Ben Gershlick, senior economist at the Health Foundation, said the funding will only “scratch the surface” of capital funding needed.