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Sir Keir Starmer has delivered a speech setting out his priorities for the NHS. He said the Labour Party would both invest in and reform the service, using digital technologies from integrated digital records to the NHS App. Meanwhile, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay was effectively forced to admit that the government will not deliver 40 ‘new’ hospitals by 2030.
But he argued technology could help to make the best use of existing capacity, by outlining plans to use the NHS website and NHS App to encourage patients to exercise ‘choice’ and pick providers with shorter waits for elective treatment.
In further evidence of the huge financial pressure on NHS organisations, the Health Service Journal calculated that integrated care systems are being asked to make eyewatering efficiency savings of around 6% this year; much higher than the 4% demanded (and generally missed) before Covid-19.
Against this background, Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation called for a “new social contract” on health to mark NHS75 in July. He said there needed to be a “reset” between the centre and local organisations and the service and the public. And more money.
The government published its recovery plan for access to primary care, with £240 million for cloud telephony and digital communications. The plan includes targets for using the NHS App for records access, booking and repeat prescriptions that look ambitious.
Many GP practices have not enabled the functionality planned under the GP Access programme, and public use of the NHS App has stalled. Interestingly, online triage and GP consultation provider Babylon announced plans to go back private this week after a disastrous floatation. Although it once threatened to disrupt NHS primary care, it is now focused on the US.
The government imposed a pay deal on NHS staff covered by the Agenda for Change framework, after a majority of unions on the NHS Staff Council voted to accept it. The Royal College of Nursing and Unite may still take more strike action and doctors are not covered.
In big news for NHS IT, NHS England announced that director of transformation Tim Ferris will return to the US at the end of the summer. A new National Improvement Board and Digital Policy Unit look set to take on a lot of the work of his directorate, which absorbed NHSX and NHS Digital.
Centre-left think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research issued a paper calculating the economic impact of physical and mental ill-health on the UK. It called for a “mission” to reverse recent trends and make the UK the healthiest country in the world within 30 years.
Meanwhile, the ADASS called for immediate action to rescue social care which, it warned, is now “close to breaking point.” In health tech news, former Cabinet minister David Davis raised concerns about the NHS Federated Data Platform, the Covid-19 app closed down, and a roadmap for the NHS.uk website was published.
Parliament returned, but there was no immediate political impetus to end the wave of NHS strikes, which look set to resume over the early May bank holiday. Labour unveiled a plan to reform primary care, but new figures suggested that downloads and use of the NHS App have stalled – with many GP practices switching off access to appointment booking.
NHS England picked a partner to redevelop the NHS Spine for the cloud and microservices era. And trusts continued to pilot app-based pre-hab, home testing, and remote monitoring ideas.
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