Blog by David Docherty, Former CEO, NCUB

Matt Hancock, the relatively new Secretary of State for Health claimed recently that: “it is an immediate priority of mine to sort out the technology of the NHS and social care systems.”

He has offered six ways forwards:

  • The systems must talk to each other: The department will “publish robust standards in the coming weeks that IT systems must meet if they’re going to be bought by anyone in the NHS. No system will be allowed to be bought that does not meet these standards and existing systems will have to be upgraded to meet them.”
  • Buy the right stuff: Too often, the NHS has acquired the wrong technology that is large, expensive and doesn’t solve the right problem. Hancock wants the whole system to be more agile and seeks to bring about a culture change in purchasing. To that end the department is allocating £200 million for the next round of Global Digital Exemplars.
  • Be the cutting edge of HealthTech: Just as we have curated a world-class ecosystem to make the UK the world leader in FinTech, so, Hancock argues, the UK can do the same in HealthTech. The NHS needs to “provide a strong environment for enterprise, where innovation is supported.”
  • Back the NHS to succeed: The NHS will be tasked to be innovative itself, rather than just buying it in. An example will be the launch of an NHS app, to enable patients to variously book appointments and review their records.
  • Create a new skillset: We need to equip staff all across the NHS with the right skills to constantly innovate and continuously realise the benefits that technology will provide.
  • Culture change: Finally, Hancock goes to the heart of the issue. Technology is only 10% of the issue, 90% is culture. So, he tasks the NHS to develop a way of life that follows the mantra: Adopt. Iterate. Improve.

These are absolutely the right issues, but the challenge, as always, is how to make it happen. How to create the new culture? How to scale up? How to embed new approaches deep in the system? How to change hearts as well as minds?

The Human Factor was our deliberately chosen title for the final report of the National Centre for Universities and Business Task Force on Digital Health and Care. We reviewed technology solutions across the world and realised that the UK needs more than mandated standards if it is to be a global leader, it needs a revolution in skills training in colleges, universities, and medical schools, not just for the next generation, but for the millions in the current workforce. The challenge of digital health and care technologies are unique. They are designed by the young for the old; and by fast moving tech companies for slow moving health systems. This has led to consistent failure, not only in the UK but almost everywhere else. We cannot afford it again.

The Secretary of State has created the challenge, but all parties involved must create the solutions. Only then can we meet Hancock’s rallying call: let us work together to put the best technology on the planet to work.


Click here to download the The Human Factor: Driving Digital Solutions for 21st Century Health and Care.


Published: 12 September 2018