Digital first provider at heart of NHS Long-Term Plan

Patients will be able to switch to a “digital first” provider from their existing GP and have access to a “digital first primary care offer” such as online or video consultations by 2022-23, the NHS’s Long-Term Plan has revealed.

It is part of the aim to make digital services a mainstream part of the health service. The Plan suggests that offering a “digital first” option will provide “longer and richer face-to-face consultations with clinicians where patients want it or need it”. There is the aim for ill people to be increasingly cared for within their own homes.

The five aims within the plan surrounding making digitally-enabled care mainstream are:

  • Empowering people – by allowing people to access, manage and contribute to digital tools, information and services;
  • Supporting health and care professionals – with the aim of making technology less burdensome on staff;
  • Supporting clinical care – by trying to forge a stronger relationship between the public and the health service;
  • Improving population health – by deploying health management solutions to the areas of greatest need;
  • Improving clinical efficiency and safety – including quicker test turnaround times and better access.

It is hoped the use of digital technology in the NHS would help aspects including ensuring clinicians can access and interact with patients records and care plans wherever they are and use decision support and artificial intelligence (AI) in applying best practice.

A digital NHS ‘front door’ through the NHS App, which will be fully available across England from 1 July 2019, will provide advice, check symptoms and connect people with healthcare professionals – including through telephone and video consultations.

The Plan mentioned the possibility of trialling smart inhalers and continuing to support the development of apps and online resources with the aim of supporting good mental health and enabling recovery.

The redesign of outpatient services including digital appointments, where appropriate, was also included in a bid to make savings following a rise in costs of £8 billion over the past decade. The plan aims to cut outpatient visits by 30 million a year, saving £1.1 billion in resources.

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital, welcomed the publication of the plan and its focus on technology.

She said: “Over the coming years we in NHS Digital, working closely with our partners across the system, will work to make digital access to health and care services as pervasive as it is now across other sectors. The sophistication of commodity technology services, the plethora of advances in health technology, the track-record of reliable delivery which we have quietly laid down over recent years, and the passion and commitment of this Secretary of State to transforming these capabilities combine to make this a time of enormous opportunity and potential.

“A key focus of the technology and digital agenda, as with the plan overall, is allowing patients to better manage their own health and care. A broad spectrum of digital services will support individuals to take a much more proactive and responsible approach to monitoring their own health and well-being, enabling them to recognise their individual health risks and symptoms as early as possible, and manage their personal response to these risks. This, in turn, reduces the demand for health and care services.

“We know how challenging it can be for organisations, particularly those under constant pressure to deliver critical services, to adopt new technology and digital systems. We are completely committed to supporting NHS organisations on all aspects of this journey from technical education, to integrating new technology into services and care pathways to the design of highly usable and accessible patient-facing solutions.”

The long-term plan also mentioned the target for all secondary care providers to move to digital records has been put back to 2024, a year later than planned, with all Trusts having to meet “core” digital standard by 2023.

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