The NHS took “bigger and bolder” steps on digital during the Covid-19 pandemic and needs to “bottle that spirit”, the chief executive of NHSX has said.

Speaking at day two of Digital Health Rewired (16 March), Matthew Gould addressed the lessons learned during the crisis and the attitudes that need to be taken forward.

The pandemic led to projects that seemed “beyond the veil” moving at a much quicker pace, Gould told the virtual Digital Leadership Summit audience.

“A thing I really hope we can take out of this is the ‘let’s just get on with it’ attitude,” he said.

“Don’t compromise on patient privacy or safety, but that doesn’t mean we have to be paralysed, taking slow tentative steps.

“We can actually take bigger and bolder steps. This was happening on the front line because it had to happen, and we need to bottle that spirit.”

Commenting on a “remarkable” year for health technology, he said there was renewed focus on the need to digital to be at the heart of the NHS.

“There’s been knowledge that digital needed to be a critical part of how the NHS responded to the pandemic and now responds to the recovery,” he added.

“We got a lot of things right, but I think there are some things we could have done better. Even when you, and your teams, are building stuff at incredible speeds, always remember what the future is going to require beyond the immediate pressure.”


The pandemic has also shone a light on the importance of health data in improving patient safety and planning for the future, Gould said.

He believes the wider discussion on patient data will lead to citizens feeling more confident in sharing their information.

“There will be a different approach to health data. I think the citizen has got a reshaped relationship with their health data – it’s important for them, it’s real for them, it matters in a way which perhaps wasn’t so obvious a year ago,” Gould said.

“What it absolutely doesn’t do it make patient data any less sacrosanct, that’s absolutely the starting point.

“But we’ve learned how data, properly and safely used, can improve patient safety, can stop mishaps between the NHS and social care, and ensure that clinicians who are seeing new patients can see the relevant information.”

NHSX is due to publish a Data Strategy for Health and Care later in the year which Gould said will focus on how to capture these benefits for the longer term.

The future

Coming out of the pandemic there needs to be a focus on what works well across organisational boundaries to build “that future we all want to see but find so hard to get to”.

Gould said NHSX had worked closely with NHS Digital, NHS England and Improvement, NHSBSA and with colleagues on the frontline to deliver new services, and that work had to continue.

“The last year we’ve done a really good job on digitisation… but we’ve barely scratched the surface of transformation,” he said.

“The single message that I’ve been banging on about before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and no doubt in the next year as well is that digital won’t work if it is in a silo.”

“We’ve still got a huge way to go to make full use of digital technology.”

Gould concluded his keynote saying the future of the NHS “needs to have digital transformation at its heart”.

“It won’t be enough just to do the same things… done well, digital has the potential to enhance the care that we provide for patients.”

Earlier in the day, delegates also heard from NHS Digital’s CEO, Sarah Wilkinson, who listed her five key digital takeaways from the last year.

Digital Health Rewired 2021 is running from 15-19 March and is free for everyone from NHS, public sector, independent providers, charities and education sectors, plus start-ups less than three-years old.

You can book your place here