NHS digitisation expected to cost up to £13bn – report


Supporting digitisation in line with a forthcoming plan for the NHS is expected to cost up to £13 billion over the next five years, it has been reported.

Officials developing NHS England’s long term plan have estimated it will cost between £10.9bn and £12.9bn to support digitisation across 15 areas included within it.

The roughly £13 billion figure would, if eventually confirmed, be remarkably close to the headline figure of the troubled National Programme for IT that ran from 2003.

The estimate is believed to cover support programmes aimed at reducing health inequities, improving personalised care and developing IT architecture for integrated care systems over the next decade.

Theresa May laid out a five-year funding settlement for the NHS in June, when she proposed an additional £20bn a year would be made available to the health service by 2023 to secure its future.

In return, NHS leaders and stakeholders were tasked with identifying where efforts to improve the service should be focused and also asked to “ensure every penny is well spent”.

The figures are based on “official estimates” said to have been seen by HSJ.

Digitisation of all NHS providers is reported to have been identified as the biggest area earmarked for investment at £3bn, with this process potentially lasting until 2024.

HSJ reports this is followed by the cost of making improvements to IT infrastructure, priced at between £2.2bn and £3bn. Meanwhile, data-gathering and analytics – which will provide the foundation for much of the NHS’s ambitions around population health and AI – is expected to cost between £1.4bn and £2bn.

Maintaining current NHS systems up to and beyond 2021, including Spine and the cyber security operations centre, is expected to cost £3.2bn.

Ben Moody, head of health and social care at techUK, suggested that the £13 billion figure needed to be considered “in context”.

He told Digital Health News: “The government already committed £4.2 billion for NHS technology in 2016 and when you consider the scale of the NHS – 1 million patients every 36 hours; 1.8 million employees and a Department of Health and Social Care budget in excess of £120 billion – it actually seems conservative compared to the percentage of revenue other large organisations spend on digitisation.

“Clearly, we need more detail before jumping to conclusions – but a step change in both funding and approach to digitisation is needed just to get the NHS on a level playing field with other industries.”

An NHS Digital spokesperson told Digital Health that it was unable to comment on “leaked documents” and instead referred to a press statement, which suggested the estimated cost would fall as some proposals were dropped.

“Any figures being discussed at this stage are ambitious and in outline and as with any planning process, there will be a stage of collaboration, consultation and refinement before final figures are agreed,” the statement read.

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