New guidance for digital transformation across the health service is an opportunity to “build on” the use of data in enabling digital transformation, industry leaders have said.

Healthcare IT suppliers have welcomed the publication of NHSX’s ‘What Good Looks Like’ guidance but said it could have “gone further” to set out expectations around data policies, resources, and training.

The guidance aims to build on the strides seen in digital and data during the Covid-19 pandemic by providing local NHS leaders with digital success measures they should aim to meet.

Matt Cox, managing director of Better UK and Ireland, said: “Whilst these are simple clear measures to help establish good practice we would have liked the recommendations to have gone further in terms of setting the expectation around the new data policies, the separation of data and tacking ownership back from the vendors.”

“This is going to be vital when it comes to success measure 7, in which emphasis is placed on longitudinal data. In our view, this is an opportunity to build on the momentum from the draft Data Saves Lives strategy to refer directly to the importance of open data in enabling digital transformation in health and care.”

Cox adds that the recommendations to consolidate spending, strategies and contracts within an Integrated Care System, made under ‘smart foundations’ in the guidance, carries a risk of shutting out innovation.

Richard Strong, managing director of Allscripts, said the framework goes far enough to explain the ‘what’ but now trusts and suppliers must work together to deliver the ‘how’.

“The success measures, particularly those for ICSs [Integrated Care Systems], will rely on open, connected systems. However, the reference to open data in the framework is conspicuous by its absence, which I hope is not a sign of backtracking on the positive commitments laid out in the draft Data Saves Lives strategy,” he said.

“Overall, I welcome the What Good Looks Like framework. It marks an important step forward in assisting healthcare providers move towards digital maturity, both internally and at ICS level. When considered jointly with ‘Who Pays For What’, I see a promising foundation being laid for the acceleration of digital healthcare in the UK.”

The framework sets out seven success measures including whether digital transformation is well led; ensures smart foundations; safe practice; supports people; empowers citizens; improves care; and healthy populations.

It’s hoped the guidance will help leaders and individual organisations accelerate digital transformation across the health service.

Andy Meiner, managing director and chief commercial officer of Silverlink Software, said it was “critical” the NHS invests time and resources to train digital leaders to deliver the What Good Looks Like ambitions.

“As a company, we broadly welcome the new guidance published by NHSX, outlining how NHS organisations should be driving digital transformation,” he said.

“The Covid–19 pandemic has shown us the importance of digital and data, and providing local NHS leaders with digital success measures is a good way to ensure that we continue to build on the progress we have made in terms of normalising the use of digital technologies across the health and care estate.

“But even though the guidance represents a good starting point, it is critical that the NHS invests time and resource into identifying and training the right leaders to deliver upon its digital and data ambitions. Only then will we be able to maximise the potential of health and care service delivery.”

‘Freedom and flexibility’

Trusts and other NHS organisations will be assessed against the What Good Looks Like guidance to help “identify their gaps and prioritise areas for investment and improvement”, according to a statement from NHSX.

It’s the first confirmation NHS organisations will be assessed on their digital capabilities since the Digital Maturity Assessments were launched.

Responding to the publication of the guidance Saffron Cordery, NHS providers deputy chief executive, said the organisation would look to work with NHSX to develop a support package for trusts to implement the success measures.

“This guidance is published at a time when trusts are facing a series of significant challenges: recovering elective care backlogs, supporting the workforce, responding to continuing Covid-19 pressures and implementing the Long Term Plan alongside broader integration changes,” she said.

“Therefore, in order to meet NHSX’s seven success measures, trusts should be given freedoms and flexibilities that reflect their local context and particular governance and accountability arrangements.”

The chairs of the Digital Health Networks have welcomed the guidance but called for a clearer framework on how digital maturity will be assessed.

Dr James Reed, chair of the Digital Health CCIO Network and Lisa Emery, chair of the Digital Health CIO Network, called on NHSX to work with the Digital Health Networks to help shape how the What Good Looks Like guidance can be expanded and adopted into NHS organisations.