Future of flagship NHS global digital exemplar programme unclear, according to recent reports

Last year, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said £200m would be allocated to create a new set of global digital exemplars.
By Leontina Postelnicu
07:07 AM

Concerns have been raised about the future of the NHS global digital exemplar programme in England, according to a recent report in the Health Service Journal (HSJ).

Through the scheme, a suite of acute, mental health and ambulance trusts have received funding - which has to be matched locally - to accelerate digital transformation and work with other providers selected as "fast followers" to demonstrate that they can make progress faster. 

But with not enough funding for digital programmes through to 2021, NHS sources told the publication that the GDE scheme was thought to be “most at risk” of being discontinued, although health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said in September last year at the NHS Expo conference that £200m would be allocated to create a new set of GDEs.

The NHS long term plan published in January also pointed to additional GDEs, and NHS England told the HSJ that the NHS remained “committed” to the programme, and that the new unit for data, digital and technology, NHSX, would be “working with regional leads to ensure the next wave of the GDE programme targets local needs in each part of the country”.

The creation of NHSX was announced earlier this year, and Matthew Gould, until recently the government’s director of digital and media policy, has been appointed as chief executive. NHSX will become operational later this year, and Gould will have strategic responsibility for setting the national policy on technology across health and social care. He will be accountable to the health secretary and the chief executives of NHS England and NHS Improvement.

GDE programme helps Cambridge University Hospitals "enable better sharing of knowledge"

The GDE scheme was created after the publication of the Wachter review in 2016, Making IT Work, which suggested a “phased approach” to digitising secondary care providers, with the £4.2bn made available by the Treasury that year seen as “not enough to enable digital implementation and optimisation at all NHS trusts”.

“During Phase 1 (2016-2019), national funding should be combined with local resources to support implementation in trusts that are prepared to digitise, and to support those that are already digitised and ready to reach even higher levels of digital maturity. Another tranche of government funding (not yet allocated) will likely be needed to support a second stage (Phase 2, 2020-2023) of the strategy,” according to the document.

Professor Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who led the review, wrote on Twitter this week that he hoped the reports “prove not to be true”. 

Meanwhile, a team of experts from the University of Edinburgh, University College London and the NHS Arden & GEM Commissioning Support Unit, are carrying out an evaluation of the programme

Commenting on the reports, Dr Afzal Chaudhry, chief clinical information officer at Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH), which is part of the GDE scheme and a HIMSS EMRAM Stage 6 site, told Healthcare IT News:

“Combined with our own Trust investment and digital transformation plans, we have found the Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme to be very helpful in supporting Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) to achieve world-class patient care through the use of digital technology, and enable better sharing of knowledge to support other NHS trusts in achieving the same.

“The GDE programme has supported CUH in developing key initiatives, including a UK first in real-time digital patient record sharing with West Suffolk Hospital (another GDE trust using a different electronic patient record supplier) for hundreds of our shared patients each month, and sharing of our Trust-wide barcode medication administration implementation processes with other hospitals to assist with their adoption of digital technology to improve patient safety.”

Healthcare IT News has approached the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.