The Budget: A Spring Forward for Digital Health?
Decisions taken now by the NHS will impact our whole nation
We are encouraged that the Government has announced it will invest £310 million over the next five years in digital health technologies to improve the health of the 2.3 million people unable to work due to long-term sickness(1).
This is a significant move towards a digitally integrated healthcare service. To realise the full potential of this opportunity, the whole NHS needs to look at how to accelerate the digitisation of mental health services plus other areas such as the NHS Health Check.
This may be a ringfenced investment targeted at just one population cohort, but the implications are much bigger. The safety, data privacy and health outcomes of the entire nation will depend on what the NHS does next.
Public expenditure will be impacted too. The right choices in digital health will ensure significant returns on investment, reducing costs and demand in both NHS and social services.
Essential steps for the NHS to consider
The NHS needs to consider how it can rapidly establish the core infrastructure for digital health that has long in place for medicine. The three most pivotal elements are:
- Choice of digital health technologies – There are more than 325,000 digital health technologies designed to support people. They are not all designed equally, the clinical safety, data security, and usability vary significantly. NHS teams need to ensure the very best-in-class products are commissioned. As both the market and products themselves are dynamic, there should be a continuous process to assess current digital health technologies and reassess those that meet defined standards and regulations, such as those outlined in the NHS Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC).
- Putting the patient at the heart of the decision – There is no single mental, musculoskeletal (MSK) or cardiovascular health app that will work for everyone. A national digital health formulary, echoing the British National Formulary (BNF) for medicines, is required to ensure the right product is selected for each person, at the right time in their care pathway, to achieve the best possible outcome for them.
- Safe delivery and governance – Safety is paramount at every step of the process. From educating the staff who will be selecting a digital health product, such as an app, to electronic delivery of the recommendation, and tracking for product recall or providing supplementary information on its use.
£310 million sounds like a big sum, but without these core elements, the impact digital health delivers will not be realised.
With them, the health outcomes and savings seen will ensure the programme of work not only continues but lays the foundation for other services to follow.
ORCHA continues to support the digital transformation of the NHS
But this isn’t virgin territory. ORCHA has already worked with Occupational Health, Musculoskeletal and Mental Health teams from across the NHS and seen real results. These practical everyday examples highlight this:
“Our elderly patients find it hard to come in for regular appointments here. So, if we can use apps on their tablets to assist in their progression, in addition to their therapy and not as a replacement for it, they don’t need to come in so often and it will help them progress.” Hannah Silcock, occupational therapist at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust.
“As a practice nurse we see a lot of patients with chronic conditions. We only see them once or twice a year to review. To be able to give them something to help them manage their conditions on a daily basis is really beneficial, for example to help those with diabetes manage their blood glucose levels.” Jane Patrickson, Bradford practice nursing team.
“Digital health is becoming part of the armoury of tools that our clinicians have…Service users and clinicians are tapping into this. Ultimately, if we get this right, this is about keeping people as people and stopping them from becoming patients in the first place.” Chris Chaney, CEO of CW+, the charity of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust.
At this time when the NHS is faced with unprecedented pressure, we welcome this funding from the Spring Budget, but urge caution around the next steps.
ORCHA has created the country’s first Digital Health Formulary, to help healthcare professionals prescribe safe digital health products and health apps to patients. Learn more about how ORCHA supports health and care organisations to deliver digital healthy safely.
ORCHA provides everything a health system needs from assessing digital health technologies and providing the safe deployment, workforce development and prescription infrastructure to achieve this, which complements other system initiatives. Our cloud-based system has been designed to easily integrate with existing NHS infrastructure, including the NHS App and Electronic Patient Records (EPRs). It also places very minimal demands on existing stretched NHS IT and digital transformation resources whilst ensuring a fully governed, safe process for the deployment and activation of these tools.
(1) Source: Office for National Statistics (INAC01 SA: Economic inactivity by reason (seasonally adjusted) – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk))