NHS needs to invest ‘in people as well as technology’

12 Feb 19

A “Herculean effort” is needed to ensure the NHS fully benefits from digital advancements in the future, a charity has said.

Technology should lead to faster, more accurate diagnoses and empower individuals to be more informed about their care, according to a major independent report released yesterday.

The Topol Review concluded this was an “exciting time for the NHS to benefit and capitalise on technological advances”, but added that “successful implementation will require investment in people as well as technology”.

Adam Steventon, director of data analytics at the Health Foundation, said: “This report tackles some of the thorniest and most urgent issues facing the NHS – the need to make the NHS fit for the future by adopting new technology, to make the most of the NHS’s valuable data and to harness the digital revolution to improve care for patients.

'However, making this strategy a reality will require Herculean effort from people at all levels of the NHS.”

The NHS is not yet making the most of existing technologies and data analytics, he explained, and is overstretched with a “shortfall of 100,000 staff”.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the trade body NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, agreed the health service had a long way to go in introducing digital systems. He called for the government to allocate additional resources to the NHS to help it achieve the Topol goals.

“Clearly, there is a lot of work ahead for employers to work with our teams and our patients to design, implement and embed new technologies to support the delivery of care to our communities,” Mortimer said.

“The deployment of technology will, of course, require significant resource and investment, and we would repeat that this needs to be properly funded by government and not left to already stretched individual NHS trusts to dig even deeper to fund.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock, in a speech to the Royal Society of Medicine following the publication of the review yesterday, said: “Digital tech has the potential to transform our health service in the future, but the right tech, right now, will improve lives and save lives.”

It was not about having the “latest gizmos”, he said, so much as ensuring the “opportunity” presented by genomics – a branch of molecular biology – AI and robotics.

He launched the Topol programme for digital healthcare fellowships, which, he explained, would be a launchpad for clinicians to become chief clinical Information officers or chief information officers.

Jeremy Hunt, the former secretary of state for health and social care, invited Dr Eric Topol, an American cardiology, genetics and digital medicine expert, to lead the independent review in 2017.

Topol said in the report: “We are at a unique juncture in the history of medicine, with the convergence of genomics, biosensors, the electronic patient record and smartphone apps, all superimposed on a digital infrastructure, with artificial intelligence to make sense of the overwhelming amount of data created.

“This remarkably powerful set of information technologies provides the capacity to understand, from a medical standpoint, the uniqueness of each individual – and the promise to deliver healthcare on a far more rational, efficient and tailored basis.”

The report, entitled Preparing the Healthcare Workforce to Deliver the Digital Future, stated that, within 20 years, 90% of all jobs in the NHS will require some element of digital skills and staff will “need to be able to navigate a data-rich healthcare environment”.

It suggested that patients should be included as ‘partners’ and informed about health technologies, that training and guidance should be given to healthcare staff and that technologies should, wherever possible, be used to allow staff to gain more time to care.  

Did you enjoy this article?