Clinician and Digital Health Adviser
The UK healthtech sector has evolved dramatically since March 2020, and 2023 looks set to be another year of significant change, as the peaks and troughs of NHS digitisation continue. Silver Buck advisory board member Sam Shah looks ahead as McKinsey is set to replace HIMSS as the provider of the digital maturity assessment model for the NHS and Patricia Hewitt is tasked with driving efficiency in the new models of integrated care.
McKinsey to review digital maturity assessment
Following on from its support for the Wade-Gery review – which has played its part in the current reorganisation of the NHS technology workforce – global consultancy giant McKinsey has been awarded the contract to carry out digital maturity assessments for the NHS.
It’s good news; it is an area that has needed clarity and commitment since 2016, when digital maturity self-assessments were first introduced. NHS leaders don’t have the bandwidth to deliver the type of strategic consultancy that McKinsey can deliver.
Some will raise an eyebrow at the sums likely to be spent, especially when times are as tight as they are now. Others may question the wisdom of diverging from the globally accepted HIMSS standard, which many trusts have been using to measure digital progress. If we grow our own approach to digital maturity, they might ask, how will we be able to compare ourselves to other health systems?
There is also a danger we don’t have the resources required to level-up the digital maturity of the health and care sector, which was promised in the 22/23 NHS operational planning guidance. Reports noted that only an estimated 20% of trusts are currently at the digital maturity required in advance of the March 2025 deadline set by NHS England. Will standards have to be lowered to reach an acceptable and affordable level of maturity?
Ultimately work on digital maturity needs to help the NHS demonstrate how to use technology to change the health outcomes for the population, reduce the burden on clinicians, and provide value for money.
Applying McKinsey’s findings will be critical to this mission, and effective knowledge transfer is a must.
Take the German health system as an example; it is adapting HIMSS to its own needs, and working with academic centres to embed the learning within the workforce. Such long-term thinking should create a more sustainable infrastructure for digital transformation, identify the requisite skills, and lead to better outcomes for patients and professionals.
When McKinsey reports, care needs to be taken to look at how we train and invest in the people to deliver its recommendations, especially in 18 months’ time when a new government might have a different agenda. The appointment of consultancy PwC to act as a delivery partner for Frontline Digitisation, especially in light of current redundancies, paints an ‘interesting’ picture, to say the least.
Looking ahead, tried and tested digital maturity models may well prove more sustainable for NHS digitisation. Assimilating the skillsets required to deliver transformative technological change certainly will.
The Autumn budget was not as hard on the NHS as was feared
Jeremy Hunt, as Chancellor, has found himself in the position to be able to influence healthcare’s purse strings. The Autumn Statement showed this, with the NHS budget increasing by £3.3bn for each of the next two years. Adult Social Care funding is set to increase too, including £1bn to support discharge.
Whilst some way short of the £7bn NHS England’s finance chief said was required, this is welcome news. There will be a focus on workforce and on waiting lists, which are rightly at the top of the to-do list.
Hunt’s workforce plan, announced in the Autumn Statement, is also a positive (and expected) move. How far will this provide the long-term solution for the health and care workforce that Hunt desires? Healthcare staff shortages are a global challenge, and the strikes affecting the NHS may hinder recruitment.
Identifying where technology can help the workforce would be a useful part of the plan. Can we build capabilities quickly across the entire system that solves some of the stresses facing the workforce? PTLs (Patient Tracking Lists), for example, can be streamlined using relatively simple algorithmic decisions.
The technology is available, and the money is in the system. But do we have the moral and clinical aptitude and willingness to undertake the necessary change management and pathway redesign? Or do current plans outsource the potential solution?
As the King’s Fund Pritesh Mistry and Toby Lindsay set out – with the right approach and organisational capacity, change is possible. If we can ‘build back better’ with the right skills and the right plans, then lasting and successful change can come.
The Hewitt review could change the landscape for 2023
Lasting change could be on the way (again) through the Treasury-led review of NHS regionalisation. Chancellor Hunt has asked former Labour Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to advise on how integrated care boards and local NHS bodies can operate efficiently and with appropriate autonomy and accountability.
With Hunt in control of the cash, the HSJ forecasts the Hewitt review could mean less red tape and more power to regions and CQC, and a beneficial focus on outcomes.
What will this mean from a technology perspective? We know that Hewitt is chair of Norfolk and Waveney ICS, which in 2018 was the least digitally mature in the country.
Since then, the region’s hospitals have engaged in some high profile developments such as virtual wards and advances in the region’s digital journey have recently been praised by national representatives. Meanwhile an outdated IT system has been linked to a patient’s death at a Norfolk hospital.
What this means for the role of technology is not yet clear. Hopefully the region can progress its EPR plans forthwith. National plans are yet to emerge. Whatever happens next, we know that the NHS workforce will do its level best to carry on providing the best possible care, whilst having to respond to the latest ideas for change.
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