Hancock announces ‘digital aspirant’ programme for hospitals

The health secretary made the announcement in his first speech following last week's UK general election.
By Leontina Postelnicu
01:23 AM

After a tumultuous election, health secretary Matt Hancock returned to the post with a speech that reinforced his focus on technology and revealed plans to launch a ‘digital aspirant’ programme for hospitals in England.

WHAT HAPPENED

“If you thought I was going to relent on tech then I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you,” Hancock said today at the Policy Exchange think tank in London.

“Until now, the focus has been on getting some hospitals up to scratch through the global digital exemplar [GDE] programme,” he continued. “They’ve [GDEs] got to keep advancing, but now we’re going to help many more hospitals with a new digital aspirant programme.”

The GDE scheme was launched in 2016 by Hancock’s predecessor Jeremy Hunt, following a report from Dr Bob Wachter, department of medicine chair at the University of California, San Francisco.

The initiative has expanded in the past three years, with a suite of acute, mental health and ambulance trusts receiving funding – needed to be matched locally - to move forward with their digital initiatives, and work with others selected as “fast followers” to show that they can make progress quicker.

However, since the launch of NHSX, the new unit for digital, data and technology, concerns have been raised that the programme could be scrapped.  

In a blog shared in June, NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould said it would continue – but “with more emphasis on the parts of the NHS that need most help”.

While no other details about the new initiative were revealed by Hancock today, the health secretary said this “model of excellence” would become part of the inspections of the Care Quality Commission, regulator of health and social care services, “so people know they will be assessed against good use of high-quality technology and incentivised to deliver”.

THE LARGER PICTURE

This week, it has been revealed that four members of the digital transformation projects team at NHSX left the unit following the departure of Dr Sam Shah, director for digital development, in October.

“Where appropriate any ongoing work has been picked up by the NHSX digital transformation team,” a spokesperson told Healthcare IT News. “We are reviewing the staff needs for this work with the aim of driving value for money and reducing reliance on external contractors where appropriate.”

ON THE RECORD

Hancock confirmed today that technology would remain one of his areas of priority, along with people, prevention and infrastructure (newly-added).

“We’re going to use digital technology to ease the burden on staff, give people the tools and information to manage their own healthcare, and make sure that patient data can be safely accessed wherever and whenever it’s needed across the system,” the health secretary said. “It’s quite simple: better tech means better health and social care.”