Report waves flag for tech SMEs in care sector

NHS Digital and tech UK to make joint commitments as one of the short term priorities for their partnership

NHS Digital and IT industry association tech UK have outlined joint aims to boost the roles of technology SMEs in health and social care and promote interoperability of systems over the next six months.

The organisations have outlined the steps within six priorities for the partnership they have shared since late 2016, aimed at bringing the NHS and suppliers together to do more with digital technologies in care.

NHS signIt forms part of a new report on the progress of the partnership that claims significant progress but acknowledges there have been delays in the work in a couple of areas.

One of these is the development of a joint strategy for SMEs, originally planned for publication in July of last year but now set for a reschedule. This has prompted one of the priorities: to work together in ensuring that smaller tech firms win a share of NHS and social care business, partly through developing a set of joint commitments.

The concern reflects the increasingly popular view that smaller, innovative companies can provide valuable new digital products and services to support the NHS and care sector.

The other delay has been in undertaking a strategic review of each domain area in the Government’s Personalised health and care 2020 framework. This has prompted another priority: to hold a strategic review of the each of the domains to form a common view of the best way to engage with the market, and to set up governance groups for each one.

Interoperability and flexibility

Another important step is to continue the work in promoting the interoperability of systems and flexibility of the technology. As part of this, NHS Digital will work with industry to ensure compliance with the Government’s Open Standards Principles for software interoperability, data and document formats.

The other priorities cover:

  • Horizon scanning for innovative technologies that could be used by the NHS, including blockchain and artificial intelligence.
  • Continuing the work on cyber security, including the procurement of an operations centre.
  • Collaboration with the wider care community, including healthcare trusts and clinical commissioning groups.

The report also indicates areas for improvement, including the need for the NHS to respond more quickly to questions raised by the industry at market engagement events, and the need for an industry team to liaise with the NHS Digital Innovation and Partnerships team. The latter has caused problems in moving from market engagement along the procurement cycle, although the team to deal with the issue is now meant to be in place.

Despite the problems, the report says a lot of positive work has been done, with seven of nine of the jointly agreed milestones having been met.

Blueprint for success

James Hawkins, director of programmes at NHS Digital, said: "The years ahead promise many exciting opportunities to advance technology in the NHS, working closely in partnership with industry. By setting out our priorities, we have created a blueprint for success in the years to come."

Julian David, chief executive officer for techUK, said: "Our partnership with NHS Digital has already achieved so much, with 25 market engagements, seven consultations, and over 1,500 delegates through the door, but this is only the start.

“Now that we have seen a shift towards a more transparent and collaborative way of working with industry, we look forward to deepening that engagement, working together to deliver better health and care outcomes for the whole country."

Image by David Totterdale (amended), CC BY SA 3.0 through Wikimedia