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A digital health plan needs to tackle core infrastructure

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Tom Irwin
Tom Irwin

Digital transformation has long been a prominent ambition of policymakers. However, this time around, following a period of vast and accelerated digital adoption during the pandemic, there is a strong possibility that outcomes could be different.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, addressed this subject in a speech at the Health Service Journal’s Digital Transformation Summit in March. According to Javid, the COVID-19 pandemic “pushed digital transformation to levels we never before thought possible and gave this country’s digital infrastructure the biggest stress test in history.”

“Just because COVID is in retreat, it doesn’t mean that this digital transformation agenda should be too,” Javid continued. To this end, he announced that the Department of Health and Social Care will publish the first ever “digital health plan” in the spring. The plan will reveal how government will drive digital change and build on the digital acceleration experienced throughout the pandemic.

NetApp® hopes that the innovative plan will bring together the various tenets of reform recently touted by policymakers, which address some of key obstacles to achieving the Secretary of State’s ambition of accelerating digital transformation.

Addressing basic infrastructure problems

As a starting point, the plan must address core IT infrastructure problems that prevent systems from harnessing the many innovations with the transformative potential the Health Secretary has in mind. These online and digital technologies, available across health and social care, rely on the infrastructure that holds them up. Getting this right will drastically affect the speed, accuracy, and uptake of the digital health plan.

We saw this in the recent elective recovery plan, which sets out the government’s agenda for how the NHS will recover elective services over the next 3 years, following the profound disruption caused by the pandemic. The plan sets out admirable aspirations for using digital technology and data systems to free up clinician capacity and scale up the use of high-impact innovations, but it also acknowledges that the basics need to be pinned down first. The core digital and data services in NHS trusts, in hospitals, and throughout primary care need to be improved before the full potential of the ever-evolving innovative technology can be realised.

Elsewhere, in a report following the “clearing the backlog” inquiry, the Health and Social Care Committee said that the “enormous potential for technology to support a transformation in NHS care that will bring benefits for patients and staff alike” will “not be realised while many providers still struggle with basic IT infrastructure.” According to the committee, the lacking infrastructure is “making it difficult for the NHS to spread innovation.”

Tackling this problem will yield enormous benefits for our primary and secondary care providers around the country and therefore ought to be a key part of the healthcare investment journey that the Health Secretary is seeking to cement. NetApp welcomes the Secretary of State’s proposal for a first digital health plan, and we look forward to seeing the plan in detail.

NetApp is working with NHS trusts up and down the country to upgrade core IT infrastructure to be extremely reliable, secure, performant, and great value for money. These upgrades are easing and speeding up access to medical data by the applications that need it. By future-proofing IT infrastructure and simplifying operations, IT departments can spend less time putting out fires and more time scaling up the innovation needed to tackle the growing backlog.

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Tom Irwin

Tom Irwin is the UK District Manager for the Healthcare, Blue Light and Regional Government team at NetApp. In this role, he is responsible for leading a team of account managers and technology specialists who exclusively serve the needs of Healthcare bodies across England and Wales. Tom has worked in the IT industry for more than 20 years. Prior to NetApp, he has held leadership positions in BT, EE and Orange Business Services.

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