Don’t kick digital and data programmes “into the long grass”: That’s the message from the Digital Health Networks to newly appointed health secretary Sajid Javid.
Speaking after Javid’s appointment, Dr James Reed, chair of the Digital Health Chief Clinical Information Officer (CCIO) Network, warned against making “change for the sake of change”.
Javid comes to the job at a critical time for digital and data in the NHS, with a number of key programmes recently announced to drive digital transformation and build on work seen during the pandemic.
This includes the government’s draft data strategy published last week, the Digital Aspirant programme and the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR).
“What I don’t want to see is change for the sake of it at the moment. There’s been good investment and we’ve started doing things so we need to see them through,” Reed told Digital Health News.
“Sometimes there’s temptation for new secretary of states to make their mark and show what they’re going to do, but my counsel to him would be to avoid too much of that.
“When there’s work that’s been established and is going on, like Digital Aspirants, let it finish what it set out to do.”
“Whatever you think about it, that is an important issue. It’s quite divisive, there are at least as many people who will say ‘it’s very important it comes in’ as there are on the other side,” he said.
“We don’t want the issue to be kicked into the long grass, it needs addressing and doing properly.”
Upon his appointment as health secretary Javid said his new position comes with “huge responsibility” and that his “immediate priority” was ending the Covid-19 pandemic.
But we are yet to see him comment on the digital transformation of the NHS, the newly published draft data strategy, ‘Data Saves Lives: Reshaping health and social care with data’, and other technology programmes in the health and care landscape.
Reed added that he hoped Javid’s background in finance means he has a “pragmatic view of getting stuff done”.
“We don’t know where he stands on a lot of these things, so I’d like to see a statement of intent about the digitisation agenda at this stage,” he said.
“Matt Hancock was at least known to have an interest in tech and digital, although I must say in practice I’m not sure how that really worked out.
“It should be about the nuts and bolts and getting digital maturity in, which is not exciting, but it’s work that needs to be done.
“My hope would be with his [Javid’s] background in finance that he’s got a pragmatic view of getting stuff done, rather than a shiny, high-drama, high-concept tech which is sometimes more the way Hancock was aligned.
“Infrastructure and building a solid base is what actually makes a real difference to people’s working lives and for patients.”
Looking at the work of former health secretary Hancock, Reed raised questions about the future of NHSX.
NHSX was set up under Hancock’s reign as the tech arm of the NHS and was very much seen as his vision for how digital should be managed within health and care.
“NHSX is very much associated with Matt Hancock and his regime, it was his big idea. We’re already unsure on what the future of NHSX is anyway, with this new transformation directorate and talk of it merging into that,” Reed said.
“I wonder if it’s the end of the road for NHSX, and if it is I’d want to hear from him [Javid] fairly soon on where digital sits in the centre. Does it sit with NHSX or is it in this transformation directorate and who is in charge?
“I’d ask him to grasp that particular nettle sooner rather than later.”
A view from industry
Digital Health News has also gathered reaction from industry leaders. You can read their thoughts on Javid’s appointment below:
Sam Shah, chief medical strategy officer at Numan
“His experience with treasury puts him in prime position to negotiate and advocate for health and social care, and his humble speech on technology in 2017 both recognised the benefits but also highlighted a need for expertise, which is a positive sign for the sector.
“However, if digital health is to become an integral part of the post-pandemic recovery, then he’ll need to secure revenue and capital funding for the system but be realistic about when and where the benefits will be realised, including where health technology investment will help society return to some level of normality.”
Mala Mawkin, head of market development at Leva Clinic:
“Javid is tasked at a pivotal point in the history of healthcare in this country. As we emerge from NHS ‘crisis’ mode, the digital health community will be looking to him to steer meaningful and sustainable technology improvements in the NHS.
“Ultimately, Javid’s unique background and outcome-driven approach will see an investment in solutions that are forward thinking, cost-effective and high impact to improve patient care.”
Kenny Bloxham, managing director of Healthcare Communications:
“The appointment of Sajid Javid as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care comes at a seminal time for digital health, and it will be interesting to see the emphasis he places on the role of digital in our continued recovery from Covid–19.
“He will no doubt be aware of the advances we have made with digital across the sector since the beginning of the pandemic, with patient experience becoming increasingly important as we transition towards an integrated model of care.
“To build on this forward momentum, Javid must surround himself with knowledgeable advisors who understand the value of digital so that we can continue to advance the digital agenda and tackle the longstanding interoperability issues within the NHS head-on.”