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Mandatory interoperability standards on the way as DHSC slams ‘inexcusable’ trust systems

There is no excuse for a provider to have systems that don’t talk to each other and, in the future, there will be no excuse for systems that do not talk outside of a trust, the health and social care secretary has declared.

Speaking to CEO Chris Hopson in lieu of his scheduled appearance at the NHS Providers annual conference, Matt Hancock continued to hit home the message that organisations all across the NHS will have to join the 21st century’s digital age, even if they are dragged kicking and screaming.

Much has already been publicised about his views on apps, many of which target primary care, but Hancock has now clarified what his focus on digitisation means for trusts.

Although he expects providers to focus on technology uptake absolutely everywhere, they will have to begin with interoperability. This is already supported by NHS England and NHS Digital, but there will soon be mandatory standards for the interoperability of technical equipment in order to back this up from a national point of view.

“The crucial thing is, this has to be a board-level decision,” the secretary of state, who has been in post for three months, explained. “If you leave this for your tech team, your IT team, or even if you leave it to your CFO, it will fail. The use of technology is absolutely at the core of running any large organisation, including an NHS trust, and it’s a board-level issue.”

For example, he added, you don’t need to know how to code to be able to manage digital systems effectively. And unlike in the clinical world, where change management is often cautious and slow – the same drug must be “tested to death” before it’s adopted – the role of technology is to be much more agile and iterative.

“People end up captured by suppliers because they have tried to externalise far too much of their technology instead of having people on the inside – with a line up to the board and the CEO – who really understand the technology, and those people then procuring the right stuff.”

To illustrate his point, Hancock noted some statistics that have come to his attention since taking up the job: 80% of trusts currently have systems in place for e-rostering, but just 20% of them actually use it.

“Within a trust, there’s no excuse for having systems that don’t talk to each other,” he commented. “And in the future, there will be no excuse for a system that does not talk outside of a trust. An iteration on a piece of technology doesn’t have to be painful for the users, it has to be designed to benefit the users.

“Across the country, there are some amazing pieces of kit they use that are really simple, all the way through to the incredibly ground-breaking use of artificial intelligence, for instance. So look up, and look around, hire the best tech people you can, and give them the air cover to go and improve. Your staff and your patients will thank you for it – and your secretary of state.”

Top image: David Mirzoeff, PA Wire


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