Industry leaders have welcomed the government’s health and social care reforms but said technology has a bigger part to play in supporting patients and staff.

The reforms aim to address the record high of 5.5million people waiting for elective surgery in England and bring health and social care closer together.

The Build Back Better plan highlights the need to harness the latest data and diagnostic techniques to tackle the backlog of elective surgeries. Under the plans the government is set to establish a £250m elective recovery technology fund that aims to provide access to “cutting edge technologies”.

Part of this will see a white paper on integration that addresses how to bring together the two systems published later this year.

Health tech leaders have welcomed the commitment to better integration but said a “clarity” was needed on how integration would be delivered.

Will Smart, global director external relations at Dedalus, said: “Build Back Better rightly identifies the more effective integration of health and social care as fundamental to transforming health and social care and the critical role of ICSs delivering this.

“Sharing and scaling innovation across the system is also rightly identified as a critical enabler, and data, along with digital tools and services, will be fundamental to delivery.

“There does need to be real clarity from NHSX about how this digital integration will be delivered.”

Tomaž Gornik, chief executive of Better, said he was encouraged to see a commitment to ICSs in the plan, but added it was “lacking any direction” on the use of open data.

“We will be watching with interest to see the further detail within the government’s integration white paper, due later this year, that will provide further detail on how the health and social care systems will integrate and operate more effectively,” he said.

Tom Whicher, chief executive of DrDoctor, added: “By validating who still needs appointments, stratifying and prioritising those patients, empowering them to use simple and high value digital tools to access care when they really need to, and by seeing them virtually, we have evidence that that shows recovery time can be reduced by several years.

“It’s great to see a dedicated £250m pot for cutting edge technologies but the challenge will be encouraging the health service to move at pace and have the courage to work in new ways.”

Whicher suggested technology could help clinicians to identify patients with the most urgent clinical need, and to encourage patients to take charge of their own care through digital bookings and appointments.

Dr Meghan Leaver, Co-Founder of Pep Health, said: “It’s important to remember not everyone accesses care equally, therefore funding to progress digital transformation, alongside additional capacity is vital to ensuring much-discussed health inequalities highlighted by the pandemic are not widened further.”

‘Poor sibling to the NHS’

The BUILD Back Better plan also addresses the need for urgent social care reform with a commitment for a white paper for social care to make the service more accessible and provide people with greater choice.

The cost of care is also set to be capped at £86,000.

Dr Ben Maruthappu, CEO and founder of digital social care provider Cera, said it would take “much more” than funding to address the social care crisis.

“Sadly, social care continues to be treated as the poorer sibling to the NHS, and we need to see greater levels of parity between the two. Additional funding is a big step in the right direction and is very much welcome, however it will take much more than just money to address the most pressing issues facing social care in the UK,” he said.

“The social care sector is in an urgent need of modernisation. In the same way that the NHS has invested significantly in digitalisation and innovation, this needs to be mirrored in social care.

“We should be investing in new technologies, and removing the manual admin and ‘whiteboarding’ which providers rely on would free up carers to focus on what they do best, which is care.”