Authored article

Turning a digital vision into reality

Andy Williams looks forward to using digital data services to improve services for health and social care patients.

Picture of Andy Williams
Andy Williams, Chief Executive, Health and Social Care Information Centre
Andy Williams, Chief Executive, Health and Social Care Information Centre

Up to now, I have spent my entire career working for companies in the IT and telecommunications sectors around the world. When the chance came to work for the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) 18 months ago, I saw it as the opportunity to be part of a real step change in the use of information technology and data in health and social care. I have always been struck by how little these sort of things have changed health and care, particularly when compared to how much we use digital services in all other aspects of our lives: how we bank, shop, travel, and consume media, for example, has been revolutionised in the last 15 years or so.

Previous programmes such as the National Programme for IT have created many of the foundations, or building blocks, for the sort of ‘digital’ world we need in a modern health and care system. For example, we have the Spine, which connects over 20,000 health and care organisations together and stores vital information such as demographic data, access permissions for all of the professionals working across the service and the summary care record. We also have systems such as NHS Choices, e-referrals, e-prescribing and so on. But these systems need to be connected together to form the basis of a true digital offer for patients and the public.

At around the time I joined HSCIC, the National Information Board (NIB) was established. What’s great about NIB is that it brings together colleagues from all of the national arm’s length bodies, the clinical community, the charities sector and other influential organisations to discuss and drive forward the use of data and technology across the full breadth of health and social care, breaking down the organisational boundaries that are meaningless to patients but cause such difficulties to those working in the system to effectively share information.

We published ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020: a framework for action’ (PHC2020) back in November 2014 and since then we have been hard at work turning the proposals in the framework into a series of roadmaps describing the strategy and direction for delivery. It has been my privilege to work with Tim Kelsey, National Information Director, and Will Cavendish, Director General Innovation, Growth and Technology, on the steering group for NIB over the last year or so to guide the workstreams through this process, and I think what we have now is a really sound basis to deliver just the kind of transformational change I joined HSCIC to be part of.

The roadmaps are based on a body of evidence gathered from previous work across health and care and experience from other industries and countries in implementing large scale information and technology programmes. We are now going through a detailed exercise to convert these into an effective delivery plan, developing a cohesive portfolio of informatics programmes that collectively deliver the outcomes required by the strategy, achieving maximum benefits whilst ensuring best value for money. Some of these are centrally driven but many will be locally driven.

There are a number of themes and proposals within PHC2020 that individually have the potential to achieve meaningful benefits both for patients and colleagues working within the system. For me, the highlights include:

  • how we collect and use information properly to manage the system better and benefit patients as they move around the health and care system
  • how we progressively join local health communities together using technology and information to create a much better experience for patients
  • how we create a modern digital experience for patients and the public that includes access to information, their health records, booking appointments, seeing test results and so on
  • how we use health apps to enable better quality care in a way that protects patients’ information

This week we have launched the NIB Prospectus’, which acts as an interim review of progress for NIB in advance of the annual report, which is due to be published in March 2016. The prospectus describes the impact of PHC2020 for patients, citizens and professionals and also the mechanism for how we will measure the impact of NIB for these groups. It also provides a platform for us to share information, tools and case studies which support the key themes within PHC2020 over the coming months. As we move into the delivery phase it will also provide a platform for sharing tools and case studies picking up some of the key themes of NIB to help bring these to life for colleagues across the system. This for me, is really valuable.

During the summer I chaired the NIB regional engagement events in Manchester and Reading, and I was reminded how important it is for us to communicate not just across the national bodies involved in health and care but with colleagues in regional and local roles, who will be key to taking this work forward. Local health economies have a vital role to play in achieving the vision described in PHC2020, and this is reiterated in the prospectus. We have asked local commissioners, in tandem with local authorities, providers, and citizens to come together and develop plans to achieve locally-designed, fully interoperable digital records for patients and citizens. Nationally we need to provide the right tools and support and foster the conditions in which these communities can flourish, starting with an open dialogue.

Published 1 October 2015