Editorial

NHS sees AI as key to its future

Updated ‘Five Year Forward View’ proposals include support for creating a new generation of NHS IT leaders, more support for Digital Exemplars – and a promise to support the government’s Industrial Strategy by working on new tech with the life sciences community

Posted 4 April 2017 by

NHS England has updated its ‘Five Year Forward View’ vision of how to safeguard the national health service, with a new emphasis on the use of tech and apps.

In a special standalone section of the revised plan, ‘Harnessing technology and innovation‘, the group outlines its wish to build on the recommendations of the Wachter review published last September.

The team in NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens say the need is to harness tech to “simplify patient access to care, in the most appropriate location, while supporting people in managing their own health”.

In practical terms, that means between now and 2019 it would want to:

  • Make it easier for patients to access urgent care online
  • Enable 111 to resolve more problems for patients without telling them to go to A&E or their GP
  • Simplify and improve the online appointment booking process for hospitals
  • Make patients’ medical information available to the right clinicians wherever they are
  • Increase the use of apps to help people manage their own health.

The document also renews a commitment to the idea of helping some more advanced hospitals showcase what tech can do to increase efficiency as a way to inspire the rest of the NHS via its fledgling Global Digital Exemplar plan.

Noting that, “While the NHS leads the world in the use of IT in primary care, the adoption of information technology in the acute, community and mental health sectors lags behind”, the plan calls for hospitals not merely choosing an IT vendor, but for those vendors to actively “choose a hospital that they want to partner with and implement the same system, keeping the IT  80% the same and making only the 20% of changes that are absolutely necessary to meet local needs”.

We also are promised more training to help build the next generation of NHS IT leaders in the shape of a new NHS Digital Academy, planned to open as soon as September.

The idea here is to train a new generation of Chief Information Officers and Chief Clinical Information Officers, as by increasing the skills to align information technology with business and clinical needs means an increase of “the chances of successful adoption of new information technology and its use to drive quality and efficiency”.

It also plans to co-operate more with central government and the life sciences sector to deliver some of the aims of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

Areas it thinks of the most potential here include areas include AI (artificial intelligence), the application of genomics to medicine, the development of a range of new diagnostic tools and therapies for conditions that will enable more healthy aging.

Summing up its ambitions, for NHS England, “There are considerable risks to delivery of this stretching but realistic agenda, but taken together the measures set out in this plan will deliver a better, more joined-up and more responsive NHS in England.”