NHS Digital CEO says healthcare tech is ‘here to stay’ after Covid-19


The chief executive of NHS Digital has said some healthcare technology which has been rolled out at scale in response to the Covid-19 outbreak is “here to stay” but there will be some processes which will need to be reviewed.

Speaking to Digital Health News, Sarah Wilkinson, said NHS Digital’s response to Covid-19 had been “really really intense” but “unbelievably engergising”.

She added that the organisation has been “empowered” after “time-consuming blockers” fell away as the NHS ramped up it’s effort to use digital services as the coronavirus threat increased.

NHS Digital revealed in April that demand for NHS tech services had skyrocketed since the coronavirus outbreak began. The most notable increase in use was recorded for Microsoft Teams, the NHS App and NHS 111 online.

However discussion has turned to what the wider impact will be and whether digital tools will remain once the immediate threat of coronavirus is reduced.

“I think we will see a broader use of tools such as e-triage along with citizens use of technology and remote care,” Wilkinson said.

“These things are here to stay.”

However other “arrangements” which have been brought in will have to be reviewed. This includes data sharing, extra information being included in Summary Care Records and GP Connect being introduced to all practices. Such agreements have been introduced under the Control of Patient Information legislation and need to be reviewed at the end of the coronavirus pandemic as the current legal basis won’t be in place anymore.

“There will need to be new and clear legal basis set after Covid-19,” Wilkinson added.

But overall, Wilkinson said she believes “most people will not want to go back” to the old ways of paper-based processes and systems.

“I think we’ll stick to this new way of using technology,” she added.

With other processes taking priority along with the closure of a number of health services in accordance with government advice, a number of NHS Digital programmes had to be placed on hold.

In particular projects like screening and expansions to NHS Login. However Wilkinson said emphasis on these projects will return after a “complex post-Covid era”.

“Going forward, we have the capability to go back to the day job,” she added.

“There will be a Covid bounce back.”

When asked about what lasting legacy coronavirus will have on NHS Digital, Wilkinson said “capability, boldness and confidence”.

“It has showed how powerful we really are,” she said.

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