What does the UK Government national data strategy mean for NHS Digitalisation?

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By Paul Walker | 21 September 2020

It was recently announced that a National Data Strategy will be implemented by the Government, setting out a plan to enhance the use of data in the UK and prioritise the reuse of existing data as a lever for economic growth and digital innovation.

With the impact of Covid-19 affecting so many industries, the government is looking into how data can help support the economic recovery, and it falls in line with a national approach to improve digitalisation in workplaces across a variety of sectors.

The digital innovation mobilised during the pandemic has highlighted how many organisations, including within the NHS, have the ability to respond rapidly, successfully adapt, and lead the way in changing how we work. This has allowed for the delivery of high-quality services to continue despite the barriers of social distancing and remote working.

The government wants the “high watermark” of data sharing that’s been seen in the UK over the last six months to be the new normal for the 2020s — allowing “businesses, government and organisations to innovate, experiment and drive a new era of growth”, as described by the Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden.

The strategy proposes an overhaul in the use of data across the public sector and the government will launch a programme of work to transform the way data is managed, used, and shared internally and with wider public sectors organisations, to create an ethical, joined up and interoperable data infrastructure.

In recent years, the use of digital systems to manage patient care and staffing in the NHS has continued to grow and innovate, with incentives to ensure systems integrate to allow seamless transfer of information, single-sign-on, and improve efficiencies for staff, leading to more time to care.

Online learning and staff management systems could save NHS Trusts valuable time and resources. By sharing more data between platforms, staff can reduce unnecessary admin time duplicating effort, or accessing multiple, complicated management systems.

By “data” the government means “information about people, things, and systems” — though the focus of the strategy is purely on digital data, not information held on paper. The government is saying it now wants this “pandemic level” of urgency to apply every day, accelerating its own data sharing across government, and beyond, regardless of whether or not there’s a national health crisis.

To feed its ambition of data-fuelled “leveling up” of the public sector, the policy sets out a major public sector upskilling plan — with the government quoting an additional 500 data analysts needed across the sector to be trained in data science by 2021.

In November 2019, we looked at what digitalisation meant for the workforce, before ‘Covid-19’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘unprecedented’ were used in our daily vocabulary. We held a national breakfast briefing at London’s Science Museum, with a panel of experts from across health and digital organisations including Microsoft, NHSX, and Health Education England.

The event outcomes highlighted the vital role skills and culture play in making any digital investments truly successful. Systems and data can make ways of working more efficient, effective, seamless, but without training and embedding new ways of working, systems could fail to deliver.

Working within the Digital Solutions team, Manager of Realtime Rostering and Doctors Rostering investment and development here at Skills for Health, Ben Marchini adds:

“The move towards data integration across the NHS is extremely welcome. More transparent and integrated data not only allows operational staff to focus on utilising data rather than inputting it, but also allows for a more uniform approach across the NHS.

It means everyone is starting from the same point of understanding, right from the beginning, and means our healthcare system can proactively address issues as they arise, rather than react after the fact following delays in data transmission and collation.”

The pandemic has demonstrated that our NHS people are incredibly nimble and can overcome endless barriers to reduce loss of life and improve care. With less red tape and more integrated working emerging from the crisis, we’ve seen several new approaches to both staff management and patient care across primary and secondary care settings, and lessons have been learned. These experiences set the foundations and evidence how, when we have the means to, we can use digital solutions to our advantage, and the people delivering care can adapt, grow, and learn at pace.

Ben continues:

“Within staff rostering, integrated software solutions mean that it is easier to identify staffing issues, identify potential solutions, model the impact of each solution, and take the appropriate action in a timely manner. Increased data integration not only allows for this to be a more informed decision but also allows for these decisions to be mapped to a regional or national level, beyond an individual Trust.”

This could have numerous benefits for the future, influencing how health sector organisations use data to their advantage, both for training and development of staff, which regularly takes up so much time and resource, and furthermore impact how staff are actually placed in the positions they work, when, and for how long.

More and more, healthcare organisations are looking at how the integration of systems and workforce data can help inform better decisions about staffing and training levels to achieve efficiencies, cost save, and release more time to care for patients.

Digital innovation in the health sector must come with impact on patient outcomes, and if we use data and systems to our advantage to improve how our workforce operates, we can see unparalleled benefits to patient-care.

As a not-for-profit, and the Sector Skills Council for Health, we welcome this direction from the government to support and enhance how organisations will look to use integrated systems and data to make better decisions.

Our digital strategy here is Skills for Health is fully aligned with the concepts of open data and systems. Our goal is to be an open integrator of solutions that work seamlessly with other applications and can provide great data insight to NHS and healthcare employers. The more that public sector organisations can share data with one another, the more they can focus on the changes, innovations, and efficiencies that will benefit their constituents.

We can see the long-term gains that could improve the lives of staff and patients. By working on implementing and embedding quality integrated digital solutions that support training and development and workforce management, we can ensure our healthcare staff are in the right place, at the right time, crucially with the right skills. Through the use of the best digital platforms and data management solutions, we can make certain our people are armed with the right tools which can lead to an even higher standard of care.

Our customers of Realtime Rostering, the total workforce rota management tool, and LearnSpace, our complete learning management, and compliance system, are part of a growing community of like-minded healthcare organisations investing in a better solution for their workforce.

Paul Walker is the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) here at Skills for Health. His remit is to drive forward innovation and enhance our digital solutions including eLearning and Learning Management solutions, as well as our Rostering platforms that enhance how the NHS and healthcare organisations can effectively manage their workforce. Working with a multi-disciplinary team delivering in-house technical solutions, our digital team supports customers to develop their people right skills, in the right place, crucially at the right time.

Talk to us about your plans to enhance your digital systems and embed new ways of working to support your workforce, today.

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