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Industry reacts to Matt Hancock announcement at Digital Health Rewired 2021

Industry responds to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announcement that he is looking at creating “a consistent data platform” which would see patient data separated from the application layer — a potential landmark change for suppliers and the NHS.

Thomas Webb, CEO, Ethical Healthcare said: 

Matt Hancock’s announcement is perhaps the most far-reaching, strategic and impactful policy position for the clinical systems marketplace in many years. The vendor lock-in of NHS patient data has been an immovable barrier for innovation in the clinical software market, and to take a position to break from this is remarkable. If NHSX, NHSD and PRSB have the will power, resilience and commercial levers to drive the adoption of standard clinical information models, we would expect to see an unprecedented explosion of innovation occurring. The resistance to this model from the current market-leading suppliers should not be underestimated as it unequivocally breaks their business model, so robust and resilient leadership will be required in all levels of the NHS, from policy to procurement.

Richard Strong, VP and Managing Director for EMEA, Allscripts said:

Allscripts was excited to hear the announcement. We have been a strong supporter of open interoperable platforms for many years. It is clear that to put the citizen at the centre of their own health and wellness requires them to be in control of their own data. Seamless interoperability is essential to this, based on the universal adoption of standards. The formation of ICSs will put the citizen at the centre of the whole system. Setting policy to create a consistent platform in the cloud, will provide citizens with the knowledge and information to be able to co-produce their own healthcare.

Simon Evans, Managing Director, Nautilus Consulting said:

Matt Hancock’s proposal to separate data from applications could be viewed as a direct challenge to the dominance of current EPR suppliers, or just the natural next step in a technical evolution that encompasses big data, agile mobile apps, and increasing expectations from patients and clinicians alike. 

In reality, it is almost certainly both. The Pandemic has rapidly accelerated the need to work across trust boundaries. Currently, this is often frustrated by the inability of systems to access a single clinical record, or even to share core clinical data. This is a big change – and delivering it needs government intervention. Individual trusts can’t take the risk of new technology delivery models, whilst trying to meet post-Covid clinical and operational challenges, and manage within control totals.  And, in any case, none is big enough, or important enough to convince one of the major US software providers to change their core solution.  But, with DoH backing (financial, political and commercial), and a strong focus on standards, there is the potential to move the dial.

There is a risk that the Westminster news cycle sets a timeframe for delivery that is far too short, or that the UK gets out-of-step with the direction being taken elsewhere – both of which will lead to much time, effort and money wasted, and little forward progress. But, there is the opportunity to take a lead here; play the long game; work with our international partners; and invest in local capability.  The prize is a step-change in the ability to deliver integrated care – it really could be the holy grail of more care for less money.

Tim Quainton, Managing Director, Silverlink Software, said: 

Splitting the data and application layers is definitely the way forward, and if done properly, will stimulate the market, encourage collaboration and give providers more choice. But whilst the announcement is encouraging, we can’t underestimate the scale of Hancock’s ambitions; creating ‘a consistent data platform’ requires clear policy and direction, universal commitment, and funding. It is critical that these elements are established from the offset.

Our offering is based on a modular approach, and our integration credentials means our PAS can easily share data with other solutions. Some of the ‘mega-suite’ systems are fundamentally at odds with this direction of travel, so it will be interesting to see how these suppliers respond to the challenge and whether they are willing to adapt in order to meet the NHS’ needs.

Prof Sam Shah, chief medical strategy officer, Numan and member of the Silver Buck Advisory Board

The announcement yesterday from Matt Hancock is almost identical to that made just over two years ago as part of the NHS Technology Strategy 2018. Hancock then talked about the principles of ‘Separating the layers of the NHS patient record stack into: hosting, data and digital services’, even then he promised to phase out suppliers that didn’t comply with a much more open and collaborative approach.

Very little has changed since then so whilst this seems monumental it is just repetition. This time it needs to be more than just a vision. It needs to be a delivery plan with funding, support and expertise given to NHS organisations to make it happen. It also can’t be the few mega trusts but needs to apply to all 30,000+ organisations from GP, ophthalmology and dental all the way through to prison health and community services otherwise the benefits will be siloed in the way data has been. 

Tomaž Gornik, co-chair of the openEHR Foundation Management Board and CEO of Better said: 

The Secretary of State Matt Hancock correctly identified the core idea of the new approach – separating data from applications. Of course, this data needs to be managed using an open standard like openEHR, the leading clinical data persistence format for this approach, as evidenced by similar initiatives across Europe.

Consistent messaging is going to be vital to give trusts confidence the NHS is fully supporting – even demanding – this fundamental shift. But it will take time. First, we need to bridge the gap between current and future state. Standard APIs will allow legacy EHRs and new open platform-based systems to coexist, enabling innovation during the transition. Some nations, such as Scotland, Wales, have already declared support for this approach and we are seeing NHS trusts and ICSs like Somerset making the leap. While it will take 3-5 years for the majority to come onboard, using the Bi-Modal approach means the trusts can see immediate benefits while in transition. Ironically, it is the trusts which have made the largest investments into monolithic solutions which will be the last to transform.

Kenny Bloxham, Managing Director, Healthcare Communications:

Matt Hancock’s announcement sends a strong message to the industry that data needs to be put in the hands of the right people at the right time, and that data silos are not acceptable in modern healthcare provision. This fits perfectly in line with the Long Term Plan’s ambitions for Integrated Care Systems, and if the recent shift away from traditional face-to-face care within hospitals continues, with the increased prevalence of community care and remote care, longstanding interoperability issues within the NHS need to be tackled head-on.

Further to this, the announcement of a shared patient record — accessible by any clinician, anywhere, and also available to patients — is a huge step in the right direction as it will empower patients to take charge of their own health and wellbeing. In providing them with the opportunity to access their data to gain a better understanding of their health needs, as well as adopting a model of patient-initiated follow-ups, I am confident we will see better outcomes for patients and a better patient experience across the board.    

Richard Corbridge, CIO, Boots UK and chair of the Silver Buck Advisory Board said:

The announcement created a roar of approval across social media, hearing a political leader reference the need to create a solution to the perennial problem of systems that act as barriers feels like a moment for the history books.

The last year has taught everybody that the way we do things needs to facilitate collaboration, that systems that exist in a regimented, bricks and mortar fashion are now outdated and need to be rebuilt (at last) with the patient at the centre of them. Hancock said we “need to connect the system so data flows appropriately and freely”. I am sure that those involved in the original LHCRE concepts recognise this but just maybe reiterating this now, but with a more nationwide focus, means that at last your own postcode of residence will no longer be a determinant of the joined-up healthcare you can access.

Never more than now has the concept of Data Saves Lives rung more true, and the direction outlined at Rewired today shows the NHS that the leadership of the NHS now get this and wants to do something about it, and as long as that something isn’t a national programme of delivery or a partially funded local capability that isn’t facilitated to get there then we may just, at last, be on to something quite amazing.