After a huge year for digital health, we asked NHS IT leaders what they think is in store for 2021. Here’s what they had to say.

Saffron Cordery, chief executive at NHS Providers

Saffron said 2020 accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and there is a “real sense” that trust boards will be focussed digital “like never before”.

“2021 will see trusts reappraise their digital strategies in order to pursue more ambitious transformational change and to meet the raised expectations of the public, patients, service users and staff,” she said.

“To do this, all trust leaders will look to further build their confidence and understanding of the digital agenda, and NHS Providers are excited to support this.

“This is also the year when ICSs will likely be put on a statutory footing, with an NHS bill expected in the spring. NHS England and Improvement have made it clear they expect digital to be at the heart of system working, with digital senior responsible officers (SROs) appointed to each ICS partnership board.

“For trusts, the challenge remains the twin acceleration of both the digital agenda and ICS development, all the while ensuring both are aligned and against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 response and recovery.”

Professor Maureen Baker, PRSB chair

“2020 has been extremely challenging for health and care professionals, but at the same time revolutionary for advancements in the way technology is used within the system.

“In 2021 I expect to see a continued focus on digital solutions being applied across health and social care, to facilitate better and safer care. Standards are imperative for these new initiatives to be safely implemented, and already we’ve seen improved communication between services where they have been adopted.

“For example, community pharmacists are now able to share flu vaccination and emergency medication supply information with GPs, which ensures a smoother flow of information, saves doctors’ time and supports population health management.

“Importantly, the vaccination standard is being deployed for the safe and effective rollout of the Covid19 vaccine. Standards to produce information sharing between social care and health were also published this year, and we expect to see these being used in action and directly benefiting patients over the coming years.

“Meanwhile digital and phone consultations will remain in place where appropriate, and we are likely to see an increased range of options for shared decision-making and self-care, including the use of apps to help people manage their own health and wellbeing needs.”

Jenny Thomas, programme director at DigitalHealth.London

“There is no doubt that 2020 has been a difficult and challenging year. Digital health has been at the forefront of the NHS’s response to the pandemic,” she said.

“We predict that 2021 will demand effective evidence generation for digital health.

“Communicating learnings, case studies, how-to guides, and demonstrating value and impact of digital health implementation will become ever more important as NHS organisations and social care providers look to ensure, having gone digital, staying digital is done in the right way with the right products for the long term.”

Mike Wright, CW Innovation business partner at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Mike believes 2021 will bring: “Broader acceptance and implementation of digitising patient care including provision of digital patient care plans, patient access to their electronic health records, and online booking of appointments and digital consent.

“Increased provision of care beyond the hospital enabling patients to receive high quality care in a place of their choosing and giving them to the tools to self-manage including remote monitoring and wearables.

“Increased use (and patient acceptance) of AI, automation and informatics that enable always-on services for patients and employees and placing advanced technologies into the hands of our clinicians to optimise care and diagnoses.”

If you want to find out more about what NHS IT leaders think 2021 has in store Digital Health Unplugged will be publishing podcast on 12 January looking at the likely trends in NHS IT this year. Tune in to hear from some of Digital Health’s Networks members including NHSX CCIO Dr Simon Eccles, our CIO Network Chair Adrian Byrne and NHS South, Central and West Director of Innovation Catherine Dampney.