In her much-anticipated independent review of integrated care systems (ICSs), Patricia Hewitt has recommended that NHS England should invite ICSs to identify digital and data leaders from within ICSs to join the Data Alliance and Partnership Board.

The review set out to consider the oversight and governance of ICSs in England and makes several recommendations. Patricia Hewitt, chair of the NHS Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board (ICB) and recent keynote speaker at Digital Health Rewired 2023, was appointed to lead the review.

Hewitt makes lots of points about digital and technology, and how it is important that the workforce is skilled, with the right leaders in place to join the Data Alliance and Partnership Board and play a “central role in the development of NHS digitisation”.

She says in her review: “I recommend NHS England should invite ICSs to identify appropriate digital and data leaders from within ICSs – including from local government, social care providers and the VCFSE provider sector – to join the board.”

Empowering the public

Hewitt also highlights in the review that as “most people rely on increasingly sophisticated digital devices to support almost every aspect of their lives”, with health and care in particular being “high tech as well as high touch”, it is “vital to recognise that many NHS patients and social care clients are amongst those least able to use digital solutions”.

She stresses that “their voice needs to be heard, within ICSs and nationally, to ensure that the design of digital and data solutions is as inclusive as possible”.

Hewitt therefore recommends that, building on the existing work of NHS England, “the NHS App should become an even stronger platform for innovation, with the code being made open source to approved developers as each new function is developed”.

She believes that “digital tools and apps can play a vital role in enabling ICSs to improve population health outcomes”.

Other digital recommendations

Elsewhere in the review, with regards to primary care contracts, Hewitt says “national standards or specifications should include clear expectations around digital and data” to help avoid confusion and prevent differing levels of digital maturity across the country.

Focusing on the digital and data workforce, Hewitt points out that “it is essential that we level up basic digital infrastructure in all parts of the system, instead of expecting nurses, healthcare assistants and care workers looking after people with complex conditions and multiple needs to write down essential information on paper and then spend precious time going back to the office to input the data manually.”

She added: “National workforce planning needs to include steps to ensure that systems can build digital capability, upskill their current workforce and develop clear pathways for progression.

“ICSs themselves, working with local schools and further education providers, can create new routes into digital roles along the lines of the local academies that have successfully used apprenticeships to recruit and develop trainee nurse associates.”

The government is now considering all of the recommendations made by the review.

Hewitt concluded: “In engaging widely, and seeing a range of views, I believe that we have established a number of recommendations that can be widely supported, and which will enable ICSs to succeed.”