The chairs of the Digital Health Networks have said streamlining digital bodies across the NHS is a sensible step, but they are concerned about those with jobs at risk.

It was announced this week that both NHS Digital and NHSX are to be incorporated into NHS England and Improvement following recommendations set out in the Wade-Gery review.

Part of the change will see NHS Digital becoming the CIO directorate, while NHSX will evolve into the strategy function in the NHS’ newly formed Transformation directorate – which aims to maintain the pace of innovation seen during the pandemic.

In response to the announcement, Lisa Emery, chair of the CIO Network, and Dr James Reed, chair of the CCIO Network, told Digital Health News that while the move is welcomed, there are still some concerns.

“I generally don’t think it is a bad thing for them to amalgamate, I am just a bit concerned about how they are going to do it,” Emery said.

“Cohesion at the centre is something that we have been asking about, so in a lot of respects we have been looking for a unified approach but there are people at the heart of all this.

“It would be good to get that clarity as to what this all means for a lot of people who are involved in NHSX and NHS Digital who have done sterling work and been really supportive.”

Emery added that while there is a “sensible aspect” of having a more cohesive approach to technology in the NHS, the work that has been done so far, such as What Good Looks Like, should not be derailed in the process.

This is echoed by Dr Reed, who wants there to be reassurances that work done so far won’t get lost in the NHS machine.

He said: “When NHSX started there was a lot of excitement that digital was going to be at the centre of everything and now the worry is that this focus will be lost in the transition to the larger NHS England and Improvement machinery.”

Retirement of the NHS Digital and NHSX brand 

One aspect of the merger will be the retirement of the NHSX and NHS Digital brands, which Dr Reed believes is not the right move.

“Although branding isn’t everything, it does make a statement and I think it is a shame that they are going. I think it would have been better to preserve perhaps one of them to show the continued importance of this work.

“I can see definite benefits from simplifying the organisational structure but the digital branding could have been maintained”.

This argument is echoed by Emery, who said: “There is a worry about what they are going to do to keep the digital brand. What keeps digital at the forefront in this new arrangement?

“We need to see how it shakes out, but we don’t want to lose momentum and we don’t want to lose engagement.”

On the topic of engagement, both chairs stressed that the Digital Health Networks will do whatever they can to assist the merger.

“The Networks have welcomed recent steps to engage more with the front line and we are really keen not to lose that,” Emery added.