Hancock’s ‘tech revolution’ to include mandatory open standards


Matt Hancock has said a ‘tech revolution’ is coming as he outlines his plans for the use of digital technology in health and social care.

Outdated and obstructive NHS IT systems will become a thing of the past, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said, as he launched his technology vision.

Proposals in Hancock’s ‘The Future of Healthcare’ policy paper, described as his initial technology strategy, include ensuring there is a modern technology architecture in place; requiring all suppliers to adhere to common standards or cease to do business with the NHS; a commitment to commercial off the shelf technology; and allowing NHS organisations to choose to buy from any supplier that meets standards.

The document adds that “open standards, secure identity and interoperability” are crucial to the success of technology use in healthcare but adds “the gap between where we are and where we want to be is only getting bigger”.

In the document, Hancock also states digital services and IT systems which are used in the NHS will have to meet a clear set of open standards to ensure they can talk to each other and can be replaced when better technologies are created. The document talks of creating a plug and play architecture where any module can be swapped out, a far cry from the current mega-suite landscape characterised by customer de facto lock-in.

Such standards will be mandatory across the NHS and any system that does not meet them will be “phased out”.

The document also claims the government will look to end contracts with providers that do not understand these principles for the health and care sector, reiterating a stern warning he sent out to IT suppliers during his keynote speech at NHS Expo in September 2018.

There is also a reference to ready-made, off-the-shelf technologies that are available now.

The document says: “We should be using the best off-the-shelf technology where our needs are like everyone else’s, and not building bespoke solutions where they are not needed.”

Included in this commitment is the strongest message to date on moving NHS digital services en masse to the public cloud: “We start with the assumption that all our services should run in the public cloud with no more locally managed servers.”

Following the announcement of his plans, Hancock said: “The tech revolution is coming to the NHS. These robust standards will ensure that every part of the NHS can use the best technology to improve patient safety, reduce delays and speed up appointments.

“A modern technical architecture for the health and care service has huge potential to deliver better services and to unlock our innovations. We want this approach to empower the country’s best innovators — inside and outside the NHS — and we want to hear from staff, experts and suppliers to ensure our standards will deliver the most advanced health and care service in the world.”

Hancock’s initial technology vision has been launched alongside NHS Digital’s technology standards framework.

The standards will formalise the way IT systems talk to each other, to allow digital services to be built that cross organisational boundaries — for example, bridging the gap between primary and secondary care.

The aim is to allow local organisations to make the right technology choices for their area, whilst also maintaining appropriate and secure data access across the NHS.

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive at NHS Digital, said: “Connected systems ensure that clinicians have immediate access to all relevant and appropriate patient data from all care providers and settings, and ensure that data is communicated between systems with absolute fidelity, eliminating misinformation and misunderstandings.

“In addition, we will increasingly be able to provide citizens and patients with direct and immediate access to their medical records.”

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