A new report by NHS Providers says that digital transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic has been impressive but now needs additional investment and clear policy support if it is to be sustained.

“Spotlight on… digital transformationsays innovation has been at the heart of the response to coronavirus, with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency.

The report highlights how NHS organisations have accelerated the adoption of new technology and digital solutions as a key part of their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It states that in the face of an unprecedented pandemic “staff are going above and beyond” by using digital to find new ways of working.

Examples cited include the roll out of virtual consultations, the scaling up of existing electronic patient record systems, and the deployment of Attend Anywhere and Microsoft Teams at scale across the service.  Other trusts have deployed telemedicine as well as virtual visiting.

Among the trusts identied as digital leaders during the crisis are University of Southampton Hospitals NHS FT, for automating tasks across the trust using an extended version of Microosft Teams; Cambridge University Hospitals NHS FT, for scaling the trust’s EPR during the crisis;  Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, for use of video consultations for virtual ward rounds; and North East Ambulance Service NHS FT, for connecting paramdics to patients to avoid unnecessary call-outs.

“A broad range of NHS services have adapted and digitally innovated in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, with staff going above and beyond to find new ways of working,” the report states.

But it also warns that to sustain this progress will require more than the goodwill of frontline staff and calls for additional investment in digital transformation within the comprehensive spending review.

Nationally, the report calls for central leadership of NHS digital strategy, adding that policy, operations and data collection should be clarified; and says a balance must be struck between bottom up efforts to digitise services and top down efforts to coordinate services, procurement and implementation

The report argues that trusts need a clear shared vision of “what good looks like” in terms of digital transformation, and a clear road map for delivery.  In addition, it calls for engagement with end-users so their local needs and preferences are taken into account.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trusts have made rapid progress in a relatively short period of time on digital transformation. Our report highlights just some of the different ways health services are innovating while finding new ways of working due to COVID-19.

“NHS trusts are not always able to meet the expectations of staff and patients in the twenty first century in regards to digital. But by continuing to build on the momentum created as a side effect of the pandemic, and through continued financial support, digital transformation can be achieved at pace.”