The Covid-19 crisis has changed views about digital at all levels of healthcare organisations, according to the results of the 2020 NHS IT Leadership Survey.

The survey, which was completed by almost 200 senior IT leaders from across the health and care sector, also shows confidence these changes will be lasting.

Some 83% of respondents said the pandemic had resulted in a more positive attitude to digital among board members, with 60% are optimistic this change will be sustained.

Meanwhile 79% felt it had improved staff members’ perceptions of digital, with 69% confident that change will continue.

The survey, now in its fifth year, reveals the extent to which battling a novel pandemic has led to digital advances. In 2019, just a quarter of respondents said their organisations offered online video consultations with healthcare professionals. This year, the figure has jumped to 85%.

Widespread remote working is cited as the other main achievement made in the first six months of the covid crisis. Respondents also suggested it had been a relatively straightforward change, with more than half saying their organisation’s IT infrastructure had been ‘very effective’ in supporting the shift.

Alongside these rapid changes, however, the survey results reveals multiple points of consistency – even in this strangest of years.

When asked to name the biggest IT project on which they are currently working, for instance, 44% named implementation of an integrated electronic patient record. This has been the most commonly-cited major project in each of the five years in which the survey has been run.

These findings illustrate that, while various barriers to digital progress have crumbled in face of coronavirus crisis, true transformation remains long-term project.

The 2020 survey also suggests there is much further to go on ensuring healthcare IT teams fully reflect the communities they are serving. Half of respondents said they have never reported to a black or minority ethnic (BAME) manager during their time in the NHS; almost a quarter reported they had no people of colour in their immediate team. Multiple respondents said their organisation was committed to changing this.

Indeed, there is some optimism that IT staffing levels will improve in the coming 18 months. 38% of respondents said they expected levels to increase, compared to only 26% of respondents in 2019.

There is also real optimism about the prospects for NHS digitisation as we move into 2021. 89% of respondents declared they thought the overall outlook ‘very positive’ or ‘positive’, a significant increase from last year’s 63%.

The full report on the results of the NHS IT Leadership Survey 2020 is available to Digital Health Intelligence subscribers. NHS organisations are entitled to a free subscription.