NHS England has revealed its digital priorities for the year ahead as part of a larger publication which sets out planning guidance for 2022/23.
The 40-page document, released on 24 December 2021, sets out the NHS’ objectives for the next 12 months across a range of topics, which include digital.
The focus of the publication looks at how the NHS can increase the number of people it diagnoses, treats and care for “in a timely way”. This includes “accelerating partnership working through integrated care systems (ICSs) to make the most effective use of the resources available”, the document adds.
Digital priorities feature in the guidance which states there are plans to use pandemic learnings to “rapidly and consistently adopt new models of care” that “exploit the full potential of digital technologies”.
Focussing on the NHS’ digital aims in more detail, the document sets out plans to use digital technologies to “transform the delivery of care and patient outcomes – achieving a core level of digitisation in every service across systems”.
Another key target is to further develop virtual wards through national funding. The report states that “the NHS has already had considerable success in implementing virtual wards, including Hospital at Home services”, with the current 53 virtual wards providing over 2,500 beds.
The document adds: “Given the significant pressure on acute beds we must now aim for their full implementation as rapidly as possible. We are therefore asking systems to develop detailed plans to maximise the rollout of virtual wards to deliver care for patients who would otherwise have to be treated in hospital, by enabling earlier supported discharge and providing alternatives to admission.”
Last year, virtual wards were part of a £160m cash injection from NHS England to help the service recover from Covid, but further funding is required to meet the goals set in the report.
The overall target is for systems to complete the development of virtual wards to meet a “national ambition of 40-50 virtual wards per 100,000 population” by December 2023.
In the section of the report concentrating on the ‘potential of digital technologies to transform the delivery of care and patient outcomes’, there is an emphasis on helping health and care systems to “level-up their digital maturity and ensure they have a core level of infrastructure, digitisation and skills”.
To “meet a core level of digitisation by March 2025”, in line with the NHS Long Term Plan commitment, acute, community, mental health and ambulance providers are required, the report states.
In addition, costed three-year digital investment plans should be “finalised by June 2022 in line with What Good Looks Like (WGLL)” and systems will be given funding to “establish dedicated teams” to support development and delivery of plans which is expected to include “provisions for robust cyber security across the system”.
It will also involve supporting the NHS Net Zero Agenda and local steps towards digital inclusion, and “reflect ambitions to consolidate purchasing and deployment of digital capabilities, such as electronic patient records and workforce management systems, at system level where possible”.
Other future digital targets laid out in the document include suppliers being able to comply with the interoperability standards as these are finalised and developing plans to up-skill the workforce to “maximise the opportunities of digital solutions”.