The NHS will need “smart digital foundations” and connected care services to better support population health priorities, new guidance states.

New targets set out in NHS England and Improvement’s priorities and operational planning guidance for 2021/22 aim to take action on staff wellbeing; improve access to primary care; and accelerate the restoration of elective and cancer care. They set out ways to build on capabilities delivered during the Covid-19 pandemic for a more joined up health system.

To meet population health needs the NHS will need “smart digital foundations, connected health and care services, locally joined-up person-level data across health and care partners, and robust analytical capability aligned across system partners”, the guidance states.

A new target was also set for outpatient clinics. Where possible at least 25% should be delivered remotely or by telephone or video consultation, equating about 40% of appointments that don’t require a procedure.

Underpinning these targets is the need to work collaboratively across systems, including provider collaboration and local government, the guidance published on 25 March states.

The forthcoming NHSX ‘What Good Looks Like’ programme aims to set out good digital practice for frontline leaders and will support Integrated Care Systems (ICS) to develop appropriate digital offerings.

The guidance reiterates the deadline for ICSs to have a minimum viable shared care record live in September 2021, with a roadmap for wider data sources and use for population health ready for April 2022.

ICSs will be required to set out the deliver and governance arrangements to support delivery of the 2021/22 priorities in quarter one.

In other areas, all providers including third sector and independent sector providers will be required to submit “comprehensive data” to the Mental Health Services Data Set and IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) Data Set to improve mental health services.

For the first half of this year systems will also be asked to focus on implementing urgent and emergency care data collection to better assess levels of pressure.

A £1bn fund has also been established to recover elective and cancer services, with organisations able to deliver more than 70% of their pre-Covid figure eligible for bonus payments.

Enshrined in law

A government white paper for health and care, published in February, included plans for ICSs to be embedded in law in a bid to deliver a more joined up NHS.

The paper included plans to embed lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic and make legislative changes to reduce red tape around procurement and data sharing.

It aims to enable the NHS to use technology in a modern way, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Integrated care is set to become the default, with the NHS Long Term Plan setting ambitions for all parts of the health and care system to be working together as ICSs from April 2021.

NHS England and Improvement board papers from November 2020 revealed plans for all CCGs to merge across their ICS boundaries by April 2022 with their functions “absorbed” to become “core ICS business”.

The target was confirmed in operational planning guidance, which further cements the role ICSs will play in delivering digital and data for population health.