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08.09.16

Technology ‘must be embedded in STPs’ and IT moved away from separate silos

Embedding technology to transform the NHS is not an optional extra, which is why it is a central part of the sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), Matthew Swindells, national director for operations and information at NHS England, has said.

Speaking at NHS Expo, he stated that the NHS faces significant challenges as there is huge variation in digital maturity.

“We’ve created the STPs to be the vehicle of that change, to be able to drive that locally and not create a number of top-down changes that is the same everywhere, because it is clear the NHS isn’t the same everywhere,” said Swindells. “Salford is not the same as Devon or Ipswich. We need to create a bottom-up approach doing the things that need to be done, and not ducking the hard stuff.”

He added that a big part of the STP work, which has come under fire recently for various proposals, including hospital closures, has been about “bringing the brightest minds together to solve the hardest problems”.

“We have asked STPs to leave their egos at the door and put the people and patient at the heart of their design instead of their intuitions, because we are trying to avoid another set of top-down change,” added Swindells.

“It is about evolving a new set of models of care where STPs are thinking about whole systems, and taking whole-system design across health and social care – creating a vision for the next four years and then delivering that into contract. So we go from a vision into something that is executable and we implement with skill, panache and consultation and in a way that we do the changes that we’ve talked about. But we can’t do that if we work in silos.”

Speaking after the launch of the Robert Wachter’s Review into hospital IT and the announcement of 12 global exemplar sites, he said that NHS England needs to help the NHS move forward, but that it is “not an optional extra”.

“That is why we have embedded it into the STP conversation and taken it away from being a separate silo run in the IT department,” argued Swindells, adding that it needs to be at the core of the clinical strategy for everyone.

Asked about delivering a fully digitised NHS by 2023, he said: “I think the way that we are structuring it means that if everybody steps up we could do 2020 [to deliver a paperless NHS], but the reality is that some organisations are a long way behind.

“I’m less interested in 2020 and 2023; I’m more interested in delivering systemic transformation. If the last hospital to be part of the systemic transformation comes in by 2023, I don’t think, with the exception of one or two online journals, that there will be a whole lot of complaining.”

During Expo, NHS England CEO Simon Stevens also said STPs were “vital to delivering joined-up care”, and called for critics to get behind the project.

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