NHS Digital, for a long time a key part of the NHS IT landscape, has been merged into NHS England’s Transformation Directorate.
NHS Digital, the Department of Health arms-length agency that was responsible for running most of the NHS’s national IT infrastructure and associated services, together with the provision of key data and analytics on health and care, ceased to exist at midnight yesterday.
From this morning the agency became a part of NHS England’s Transformation Directorate, with staff facing an uncertain future at an NHS England committed to deep job cuts to reduce its now 18,000 headcount.
NHS Digital had been responsible for critical services including the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), NHS spine, the electronic prescription service, summary care record, NHS App and NHS 111.
The agency which was based in Leeds employed an estimated 6,000 staff, including large numbers of contractors. The agency and staff played a pivotal role in the NHS national response to the Covid-19 pandemic with initiatives like rapid rollout of Teams and protected patients lists and the NHS Covid App.
Staff transferred to NHS England face an uncertain future, with a 40% reduction in headcount expected. Sources suggest that voluntary redundancies are commencing, while key staff including interim CEO Simon Bolton have now left.
Bolton posted his farewell in a tweet yesterday as he logged off for the last time:
Like all of my colleagues, this afternoon I logged off from @NHSDigital for the final time. Tomorrow they become employees of @NHSEngland. Being CEO at @NHSDigital has been the highlight of my career and I’m proud to have been part of such an amazing committed and talented team. pic.twitter.com/cWuzqs1psq
— Simon Bolton (@simonrbolton) January 31, 2023
Kieron Martin, an NHS Digital employee in Hampshire and Isle of Wight, meanwhile tweeted:
— Kieron Martin (@Kieron_M) January 31, 2023
Chris Gibbons from KPMG tweeted a reminder of just how large and complex the systems run by NHS Digital are:
Wishing colleagues from @NHSDigital all the best as they join @NHSEngland. Everyone has a view. NHSD's people run some of the largest and most complex services, not just in the NHS, but in the World. @samrobnhs @JohnMc_Ghie @ParsonsC446 @fordie @HelenFoy16 @LornaBranton pic.twitter.com/0lJNujwYgx
— Chris Gibbons (@chrisigibbons) February 1, 2023
NHS Digital was merged into NHS England on 1 February, bringing to an end the existence of an independent agency responsible for operational running of NHS IT, separated from the policy arm of the Department of Health.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre was created in April 2013, with the name changed to NHS Digital in 2016.
The lineage of HSCIC stretched back to 2005 when it was created as a special health authority through a merger of remnants of the National Programme for IT, part of the Department of Health, the NHS Information Authority, and the Prescribing Support Unit.
NHS Digital came under the remit of the short-lived and ill-fated NHSX from February 2021, itself an arm of NHS England.
The death knell for the agency was sounded by the Laura Wade-Gery review in November 2021. The erstwhile chair of NHS Digital recommended it be merged into NHS England to create a simple body responsible for NHS IT and digital strategy.
A statement on the NHS Digital website this morning reads:
“Those systems and services, functions, processes and structures that were the responsibility of NHS Digital, will continue to operate as normal and contracts will automatically transfer to NHS England, with terms and conditions unchanged.
“We will work together over the first half of 2023/24 to develop the new, more streamlined structures and processes that will support our NHS.
“As a single organisation, this new NHS England will be more responsive to the biggest challenges and opportunities of the system. It is now the single non-departmental government body responsible for digital technology, data and health service delivery in the NHS.”
Explaining the rationale for the merger the website says: “This merger will reduce duplication, bringing the NHS’s national data and technology expertise together into one organisation,” and directs readers to the Wade-Gery review.
On the NHS England website, however, there was no mention of the take-over of NHS Digital and the transfer of 6,000 staff.
NHSE CEO Amanda Prichard, however, tweeted to welcome the merger last week:
Harnessing the potential of technology – to support our continued recovery from COVID-19 and improve services for patients and staff – will be front of mind as @NHSDigital and @NHSEngland come together as one organisation from next week.
— Amanda Pritchard (@AmandaPritchard) January 28, 2023
Helen Balsdon, acting national CNIO at NHSE, welcomed colleagues who were joining NHSE:
Much of the tech you use in the NHS today has been built or influenced by NHS Digital leadership – pic.twitter.com/1GvOrk7318
— NHS CNIO England (@NHSCNIO) February 1, 2023