After pledging to invest almost half a billion pounds into the NHS,Health Secretary Matt Hancock has appointed Hadley Beeman, the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport’s former tech and security expert as his Chief Technology Advisor.

Source: Twitter

Beeman who advised Hancock when he was Digital and Culture Secretary, has now been tasked with helping to modernise the NHS as part of a major transformation. Beeman will be based at the Department of Health and Social Care and will be working closely with both NHS England and NHS Digital.

Speaking at NHS Expo 2018, Hancock states that he wants the very best for the NHS but money alone is not enough. The NHS has the world’s biggest opportunity to save lives through modern technology, it is also the world’s most frustrating place to work for it's IT. Our hospitals operate dozens of systems that don’t talk to each other and we have GP’s, Social Care providers and Community care that work on different systems. Systems crashing is still a regular occurrence, the Social Care system is not integrated which is vital and fax machines are one of the NHS's biggest purchases. In many parts of the NHS workstations have two screens – not because they are cutting edge but because they are often running two systems side by side!

The result of this is not just that scarce resources are wasted, clinical staff waste hours trying to work with broken systems and patients receive sub-optimal care as systems will not communicate and ultimately lives are lost.

It is Hancock’s immediate priority to sort out the technology of the NHS and Social care systems. Much has changed since the National Programme was canned in 2010, NHS infrastructure is stronger, moving in the right direction and a lot has been learnt about how to deliver cutting edge technology in a very complicated setting.

Hancock wants to harness the power of peoples’ innovation – from basic IT to advanced AI and here’s how he plans to do it in six parts;

First: Talk to each other

Our systems have to be able to talk to each other - In the coming weeks we will publish standards that IT systems must meet if they are going to be used within the NHS. Existing systems will also have to be upgraded to meet these standards. Good quality data management will improve both privacy and security as well as improving innovation and user experience.

Second: Buy the right products (He must have been listening to Roy Lilley)

Too often people with very little technical understanding are buying from IT suppliers who's interests are not aligned with the NHS and the contracts are badly managed. We are going to increase in-house capacity to better understand the technology, to procure the right products and to manage them better. We have started this by extending the capacity of NHS Digital and a further £200 million has been allocated for the next round of Global Digital Exemplars to help trusts on this journey.

Third: HealthTech and the cutting edge

We have the chance to lead the world on HealthTech. We already have some of the best HealthTech companies bringing new innovations to UK patients and exciting research going on in dozens of our universities and we have the world's biggest health institution - Hancock wants this to help build an ecosystem of the best HealthTech in the world. Collaborations between the NHS and industry exhibit how our most innovative parts of the health service can work with advanced technology companies to deliver better patient outcomes. 

HealthTech is not just about selling to the NHS, much can happen before the need for a GP appointment or hospital visit - the app that helps manage a patients diabetes, the device that measures when you go out for a run or the gentle reminder to set sleep patterns - the HealthTech ecosystem can support prevention and helps us all manage our health.

Fourth: Backing the NHS to succeed

We cannot rely solely on industry for the digital revolution of healthcare and so the NHS itself is developing cutting edge technologies. The NHS app is expected to be available nationally from the end of the year and is going to be trialed across 5 sites, starting on Liverpool and it will give patients the ability to book a GP appointment, access the NHS 111 service and view their own GP record. The design has been led by user testing and user need.

Fifth: A new skillset

We need the right skills as well as the right tools. We will work to build technical skills across the whole health and social care system. We need to equip all NHS staff with the right skills to constantly innovate and realise the benefits that technology will provide. Crucially we need the skills and capability in management and leadership to build this technology and we will provide the support of the National Leadership of the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care to make it happen.

Sixth: Culture change

In truth its not the technology which is holding back the NHS, only 10% of the challenge is the tech the other 90% of the challenge is the culture. The culture change we need requires strong management and leadership across the NHS. We should rightly train more of our existing staff but also bring in outside talent who know how to inspire change. This needs to start from the top so I am creating a HealthTech Advisory Board which will report directly to me, this will  be chaired by Dr. Ben Goldacre and will consist of tech experts, clinicians and academics. They will highlight where change needs to happen, where best practice is not being followed and will be an ideas hub for transforming the NHS to improve patient experience and outcome and to make the lives of NHS staff easier.

Hancock is determined to make this happen - for the sake of the millions of staff working in health and social care and the 50 million people in this country who rely on the NHS in their hour of need. 

Hancocks full speech can be read here

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