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Government progress on digitising the NHS rated ‘inadequate’ by Expert Panel

17 February 2023

The Government is making inadequate progress on vital commitments to digitise the NHS, an independent panel of experts has found. The digitisation of health and social care is essential to deliver the promise of improved and better integrated health and social care services, said the Government in a policy paper published in 2022.

Commitments evaluated by the Panel include the delivery of integrated health and care records, the roll-out of the NHS app and ensuring a workforce had the necessary digital skills.

Despite some encouraging progress, the Expert Panel found that key Government commitments on workforce and the use of patient information were either not met or were not on track to be met. The Panel found that overall progress towards improving the digital capabilities of the NHS was too slow, and often lacked support and funding. The experts concluded that social care was often missed out in commitments, stifling progress across the health and care system.

The Expert Panel notes its concern that Ministers’ ambition to digitise the NHS will not succeed without an effective workforce strategy to train, recruit and retain sufficient specialised digital staff.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre's comment

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, Chair of the Expert Panel, said:

“What is particularly disappointing is that the Government recognises that the digitisation of the NHS is essential to bring about real benefits to patients, for example by helping them to monitor and manage long-term health conditions independently.

“Yet time and again, promises have been made but not delivered, hampering wider progress. For example, using data sharing to improve research and planning, which we’ve rated as inadequate.  However, worryingly, we have seen no clear plan for how the Government will address public and provider concerns regarding sharing personal data, which is crucial to address in order for this to be successful.

“We heard about issues with interoperability between systems and providers, making it difficult for all parts of the system to communicate effectively, leading to delays and efficiency losses.”

“Evidence also highlights challenges in recruiting, retaining and building the specialised digital workforce, yet Ministers have delayed a strategy focused on delivering a digital workforce.   

“The aspirations to transform the NHS, supported by the right digital foundations, are to be applauded, however, our report finds evidence mainly of opportunities missed.”            

Chair's comment 

Steve Brine MP, Chair of the Health and Social Committee, said:  

“These important findings by our panel of experts will support of the work of the Health and Social Care Committee which is currently examining digital transformation in the NHS.

“Integration of the NHS with social care services is vital so it is concerning that these care settings appear to be frequently overlooked.     

“The Panel’s detailed work provides evidence of the Government’s overall ‘inadequate’ approach to its commitments to digitise the NHS and will feed into the Committee’s work, shaping the recommendations we make to Ministers.”

Further information

Image: PA