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Report calls for new NHS digital catalogue to meet productivity challenges 

Public Policy Projects' latest report explores the barriers holding back digital technology implementation in the NHS, finding that despite strong infrastucture to support pilot projects, implementing and scaling proven technology is extremely difficult.
  • The UK has been at the forefront of AI development, with the government investing significant sums. However, despite strong R&D across the country, the NHS is not always benefitting from advancements as there are barriers to scaling innovation.

  • Barriers include workforce capability, funding to implement technology, IT resource capability and estates. Estates are a particularly challenging issue as existing buildings are not fit for purpose to deliver new equipment-based technology, such as imaging for diagnostics.

  • A catalogue of proven technologies that outlines the benefits, costs, regulatory essentials and required skillsets would help ICBs take up technology.


A new report from Public Policy Projects, Harnessing technology to address the NHS workforce challenge, highlights the barriers to scaling digital technologies in the NHS and makes recommendations for how this can be improved. The report, which captures a discussion from a multidisciplinary group of experts, in partnership with Philips, finds that despite good infrastructure to support pilot projects and R&D of AI and digital technologies, getting them implemented and scaled for patient benefit is extremely challenging, even if their efficacy has been proven.

Alongside the expansion and upskilling of the workforce, digital technologies can help improve NHS productivity. The report suggests there is an appetite for technology solutions in the NHS, with one primary care leader saying: “We recognise we’re not going to have a cavalry of 20,000 GPs just suddenly appear from nowhere. So, we’ve got to become more productive… and AI has got to be a part of that.”

The report finds that a significant upskilling of current staff to adopt digital technologies, as well as the recruitment of people with greater digital competency, are key for shifting NHS culture towards successful adoption.

Download the report here

However, beyond workforce, the report identifies several other barriers to technology adoption. With current ICB budgets extremely tight and pressure on key issues such as waiting times, there is little money available for forward looking activity. This impacts anything that isn’t ‘business-as-usual’. Furthermore, the current IT infrastructure is not always able to ‘take on’ the latest technologies.

Another major barrier to implementing technology is the NHS estate. The current estate maintenance backlog stands at £11.6 billion, and the report finds that for example, as regards diagnostic technologies, parts of the NHS estate are not fit for purpose and cannot always house the latest technology. The report recommends prioritising the recommendations of the Richards Report and fully implementing the roll-out of community diagnostic centres, which are embedded in communities and able to house the latest equipment that maximises efficiency.

Given the investment into piloting tech solutions, the report recommends the immediate development of a ‘catalogue’ of proven technologies that NHS bosses can access. Such a catalogue would include details of costs, capabilities, required infrastructure and workforce, as well as details of the results of pilots and contact details for other ICSs that have implemented said technology.

While there are significant hurdles to overcome in terms of implementing digital technology solutions in the NHS, overall, the report is optimistic about the future in this area. One NHS leader quoted in the report adds: “Doctors are usually a bunch that when something feels like the right thing to do, they will step up and do it. So, I think eventually we’ll get there, but it’s just going to take a bit of time with the adoption of AI.”

In response to the report publication, Stephen McMillan, Solutions Lead, Philips UK & Ireland and Europe, says:

“The integration of digital technologies and AI is crucial for a more efficient, productive and sustainable healthcare system. But there are many barriers to entry and further obstacles to scaling. The NHS can’t tackle these challenges alone – there is a real need for industry and NHS partnerships to ensure successful and UK-wide adoption of such innovative technical solutions. These partnerships have the potential to address workforce challenges, streamline workflows and enhance patient care, but must be well planned to support implementation and deliver results based on shared goals and strategic alignment. It’s not just about installing equipment and IT – but also looking at operational and clinical processes to fully leverage their potential, drive real impact and support the challenges that leaders are facing.”


 

About Public Policy Projects

Public Policy Projects (PPP) is an organisation operating at the heart of health and life sciences policy delivery. This report is part of the Cancer Care programme 2024 examining implementing innovation and is designed to identify opportunities for improvements and transformation in cancer care. The programme convenes key stakeholders from primary and secondary care, research, pharmacy, integrated care boards (ICB’s), industry representatives and other key stakeholders for focussed discussions across a series of roundtables and events. In 2024, PPP hosted this roundtable chaired by Hatim Abdulhussein and attended by sector leaders and key stakeholders. This is one in a series of roundtable insights reports in the Cancer Care programme. The findings of this paper are based on these discussions, held under the Chatham House Rule, and have been supplemented with additional research by PPP. As such, it is not an exhaustive account but, rather, a succinct reflection from a key group of stakeholders focusing on this topic.

Next steps

For more information about PPP’s Cancer Care Programme, or to request interviews, please contact: Chris Rice, Director of Partnerships for Cancer Care and Life Sciences: chris.rice@publicpolicyprojects.com.

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