Header image for the current page The Long Term Plan: a blueprint for a digital world?

With the long awaited NHS Long Term Plan published on 7 January, digital technology was placed firmly on the agenda as key to enabling and underpinning priority areas.

Building upon the Five Year Forward View, the Wachter review and Matt Hancock’s ‘tech vision’, the Plan describes a huge shift towards adopting digital solutions. But achieving this will require a significant change in working practices as well as greater engagement with the public than ever before. We take a look at some of the key areas below.

Through access to a range of digital services, patients will be able to recognise their individual health risks and symptoms and manage their personal response to those risks. At Arden & GEM, we are already working in partnership with a number of organisations to accelerate access to evidence-based digital tools, such as Easychange, a portfolio of digital self-care tools founded on 30 years of psychological research, and Mapmyhealth's digital therapeutic solutions for people with long-term conditions, including the NICE endorsed Mapmydiabetes. By supporting individuals to take a more proactive approach to their own health and wellbeing, the demand for health and care services is predicted to fall.

Supporting an overstretched workforce

One criticism of the plan has been its failure to address the impact of workforce, in particular staff shortages. While we wait for a more explicit response to this, in the form of a workforce implementation plan (due to be published later this year), it’s important to acknowledge some of the potential impact that digital solutions can offer in this area such as improving the availability and deployment of a clinical workforce through e-rostering and e-job plans. Increasing use of online and video consultations could also help address workforce shortages by allowing specialists to provide remote care and aggregating underutilised capacity.

The growing number of projects and pilots exploring the role of Artificial Intelligence can also help to relieve workforce shortages in key areas such as endoscopy. Arden & GEM is part of a partnership that has recently been awarded almost £2m to test and demonstrate how automated image analysis can help reduce unmanageable loads for human operators.

Building a clearer picture

While accelerating the rollout of Local Health and Care Records will increase safety and efficiency , greater availability and better analysis of clinical data will also enable more sophisticated decision support for clinicians and better predictive assessments for patients and integrated care systems. Rich and accurate data will support us to keep refining and optimising clinical pathways and treatments based on evidence of best practice and outcomes.

Don’t forget the ‘Long’ in the Long Term Plan

We need to remember that this is a Long Term Plan and that any expected benefits from technology will take time to realise in such a large and complicated system. This was a key point made in the Wachter review and has been repeatedly demonstrated by our own work in supporting and evaluating the Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme.

We shouldn’t underestimate the time and challenge in embedding the ‘digital first’ tools and work practices proposed. Making these available is one thing, getting them systematically used in the right way as part of our normal working practices is quite another. We must aim for a digital future with a new operational delivery model replacing the old, rather than being bolted on to what we do now. How we approach the transformation required and provide the necessary support for both staff and patients, will be the key to success.