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Can the NHS land a robot on a comet?

By Alex Kafetz, ZPB Director

Some would believe there is more chance of landing a robot probe on a comet than making the NHS digital, but a new strategy is to be implemented by all the key national health and care organisations that are determined to make this happen.

Today the Personalised Health and Care 2020 framework was published by the newly formed National Information Board. It sets out how the NHS will adopt technology and become transparent by 2020. You may think the NHS has tried and failed to do this before, but I believe that this initiative is different from all those in the past because it embodies a unified approach across the sector. All the (national) organisations that need to be involved are signatories, and there are clear milestones through which we can hold them to account. Achieving the vision set out is not just dependent on them though – the document is clear that it needs and wants everyone from patients to health tech entrepreneurs, frontline staff to civil society organisationsto play their part in making it happen. It is a framework for action not just by national bodies, but by all of us.

I should make a declaration of interest here – I have been appointed as a lay member of the National Information Board. I hope to play a part in scrutinising progress and making sure the board maintains the momentum, and keeps focusing on what matters and challenges each part of the system to implement its commitments in the right way.

Since the NHS reforms took place we’ve been made ambitious promises about the role that technology, transparency and participation will play in making care better, more convenient and more accessible. However, we are all still frustrated by luddite practices across the NHS: referral letters sent through the post getting lost; professionals not having digital access to our notes and 20-minute waits on premium phone lines to change an appointment time.

However, Personalised Health and Care 2020 is not a strategy in the conventional sense but a framework to support frontline staff, patients and citizens to take better advantage of the digital opportunity. The document covers the spectrum of the tech challenge including: enabling patients to make the right choices; giving professionals the information they need; making care transparent whilst maintaining trust in the way our data is used; and supporting innovation, growth and the best use of technology.

By early next year we will be able to understand how NHS Choices will be the vehicle for publication of all NHS data and there will be clear standards on use of the NHS number, interoperability and better use of patient experience and outcome data. Dame Fiona Caldicott will act for all of us as a new national data guardian.

Soon afterwards, NHS Choices and 111 will become integrated and data quality will become a part of the regulatory regime. Further ahead we will have sequenced 100,000 genomes and will be given the ability to record our own comments and preferences on our care record.

There are two areas I particularly would like to see happen over the next six years. Firstly, I want the NHS to become as transparent as possible. This includes further development of data published through myNHS making sure that, even when it is aimed at clinicians and managers, it is published in ways that patients and the public can understand it and that researchers can access it to draw their own conclusions.

Secondly, I’d like to champion the support that organisations outside government, including small and medium enterprises can give in supporting the delivery of certain aspects of the strategy. The ambition to accredit and kitemark technology and data-enabled services, including apps, is a great place to start to make this happen.

If you like your health and care revolutions digital and transparent, this document is for you. The National Information Board invites comments via or #health2020 and I hope many people will.

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