An evaluation of the Global Digital Exemplar programme has found action needs to be taken to “address the existing digital divide across organisations”.

The independent report, which was commissioned by NHS England and carried out by the University of Edinburgh, looked into processes, outcomes and lessons learned to date from the programme.

Launched after the 2016 Wachter Review, the Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme aimed to a create a “cohort of digitally advanced exemplar provider organisations” which were then expected to pass their learnings to “less digitally-mature ‘fast follower’ provider organisations (FFs)” in a bid to enable large-scale digital transformation across the NHS in England.

The programme has supported 51 NHS acute, mental health and ambulance trusts to digitally transform – with local organisations required to match fund a total national investment of £302million.

The evaluation found there were some “lessons to carry forward”, including “addressing the digital divide”.

“Lessons learned from the GDE programme should inform the development of the broader NHS learning ecosystem and ongoing initiatives to address the existing digital divide across organisations,” the evaluation states.

“Although some experiences may not easily transfer to organisations with lower digital maturity, others will.”

The risk of “national organisational memory” being lost is also mentioned, with the evaluation adding that is it vital there is long-term memory around digital projects in order to ensure learnings from the GDE programme are taken forward.

“Clear national recognition of what the sites have achieved in the programme is needed, accompanied by an outline of how the NHS will draw on this learning to inform future programmes,” it added.

Other lessons included “retaining and developing transformation expertise” and “early involvement of participating provider organisations and cumulative development of programme management tools”.

Away from the takeaway lessons, the evaluation does acknowledge that “the GDE Programme largely achieved what it set out to do”.

“It achieved this through promoting an ethos of learning and sharing and through an adaptive programme strategy, facilitated by a range of knowledge sharing mechanisms that worked together to promote programme aims,” the document said.

NHSX said the publication of the evaluation underpin its “ongoing work to support the digitisation of our health and care system” such as the Digital Aspirant programme and the What Good Looks Like framework.

Sonia Patel, CIO at NHSX, said: “The publication of Edinburgh University’s report both informs and confirms our approach to levelling up digitisation of health and care through our Digital Aspirant programme and ongoing investment in frontline digitisation.

“I look forward to seeing further programme participants reach their accreditation status and continue to share invaluable learning with our cohort of Digital Aspirants.”

The team behind the evaluation will be speaking at our next Journal Club on 24 November. Tune in to hear from Dr Kathrin Cresswell and Professor Robin Williams from The University of Edinburgh.

Register here.