Sajid Javid faces a “huge task” in his new role as health secretary with a number of major data and technology programmes to oversee in the NHS.
The former chancellor replaced Matt Hancock as health secretary over the weekend following Hancock’s resignation over an affair with his aide.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said Javid has a “huge and urgent task ahead”.
“He must ensure completing the roll-out of the adult vaccination programme at rapid pace to control spiralling infection rates. He must also put forward a credible plan to tackle a backlog of care of unprecedented scale whilst at the same time rebuilding the trust of doctors and the wider healthcare workforce,” Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the council at the BMA said.
Speaking over the weekend Javid said the new position comes with “huge responsibility” and that his “immediate priority” was ending the Covid-19 pandemic.
Javid’s appointment comes at a time when the use of data and technology in the NHS is at a pivotal moment.
Last week the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) released its draft data strategy, ‘Data Saves Lives: Reshaping health and social care with data’, which aims to aims to capitalise on the work undertaken during the pandemic to improve health and care services.
According to the government, the strategy will give patients more control over their health data with easier access to their test results; medication lists; procedures; and care plans from across all parts of the health system through patient apps, such as the NHS App.
The much-anticipated data strategy formed part of Hancock’s ‘bureaucracy-busting mission’ and drive to remove barriers to research.
The strategy builds on work such as the NHS Covid-19 Data Store, set up to manage multiple sources of data to help the government respond to the pandemic.
It states the Data Store helped improve decision-makers understanding of how the virus was spreading; ensure critical equipment was supplied to facilities with the greatest need; and to support clinical research.
But the government has come under fire for its relationship with Palantir and other big tech firms involved in the Data Store, specifically around a lack of transparency over contracts and access to data. Javid faces a big task in reassuring privacy campaigners and the public of the government’s involvement with big tech companies.
Privacy campaigners and patient groups have called on the government to put the protection of “NHS patients ahead of the demands of those keen to turn a profit” in response to the draft data strategy.
GP ‘data grab’
Continuing with the theme of data, Javid will be expected to oversee the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) service.
GPDPR aims to give planners and researchers faster access to pseudonymised patient information. It’s a separate programme from the draft data strategy, but ties in to how the government plans to use data overall.
The plan was heavily criticised for the lack of time GPs had to inform patients about the programme.
NHS Digital announced in May 2021 that the new service would come into effect on 1 July 2021, with people given until 23 June to choose to opt out. After facing backlash from patients, doctors and health charities the deadline was moved to 1 September 2021.
While NHS Digital was leading on the programme but confirmed it has been legally directed by the secretary of state for health and social care to establish it.
Health and care bill
Javid also faces the task of overseeing the health and care bill, which proposed the biggest changes to the NHS in England since the Andrew Lansley reforms in 2012.
The paper will enshrine Integrated Care Systems (ICS) in law in a bid to ensure more joined-up care, better integration, and reduced bureaucracy.
The plan aims to enable the NHS to use technology in a modern way to support staff and patient care, including improving quality and availability of data, the DHSC said at the time.
The reforms would also see amendments to procurement rules with commissioners no longer be required to put contracts out to tender. Instead, there would be a new policy which gives the NHS and local authorities greater flexibility over who would provide healthcare services.
The bill would also give the health secretary greater control over NHS England and the objectives of the NHS, something Javid is likely to face strong opposition to in parliament.
New NHS chief executive
The newly appointed health secretary is also responsible for appointing the new chief executive of the NHS in England after Simon Stevens announced his resignation in April.
Stevens is due to step down at the end of July, with a new chief executive expected to be chosen by then.
Job specs for the role revealed the new NHS chief would be expected to “drive digital transformation” across the entire health service.
The successful candidate will take on four key responsibilities, with the need for wider digital transformation forming a more prominent part of the role, it stated.
Applicants were expected to have a proven record of “leading a large complex organisation through transformational change, employing digital technologies and innovation”.