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Infrastructure and attitudes hinder NHS digital transformation

Fears have been raised by NHS workers who want more investment in digital transformation.

By Sophia Waterfield

NHS employees say that greater technology investment and digital transformation in the UK’s health service can attract a younger workforce, according to a new report. But significant barriers to digitisation, around infrastructure and attitudes to change, still exist and are slowing progress.

Doctor wearing a white jacket and stethoscope using a tablet.
NHS staff have reported to a BT study that some parts of the health service don’t have working Wi-Fi. (Photo by Josep Suria/Shutterstock)

The report, ‘Mind the Gap! Delivering digitally enabled change to the NHS‘, conducted by BT collates the views on digital healthcare of nearly 200 members of staff from 136 NHS and Integrated Care System (ICS) organisations. It highlights the desire to adopt new technologies on the frontline and the hurdles stopping adoption, such as insufficient funding and a lack of appropriate skills.  

NHS staff want digital transformation to revolutionise patient care 

BT’s study shows that 74% of NHS staff believe that technology could help transform patient care in England and want their trusts to invest in new solutions and software to attract staff. Such an investment could help forge a younger workforce, with 83% agreeing that investment in tech can attract “digital native generations”.

However, nearly half (49%) see the current standard of technology in the NHS as a source of stress. Healthcare services are also suffering from burnout, considerable pressure and the current level of staff (42%) which is becoming one of the biggest barriers, outside of funding, to digital transformation within the NHS. 

Not unlike other public sector organisations, the NHS suffers from an aversion to change, with 37% of NHS staff responding that cultural resistance to change is a significant barrier to digital transformation. Innovation is also slowed by team capacity and lack of relevant skills, according to 75% of respondents. 

NHS digital infrastructure needs to evolve 

BT’s report also found that the NHS’s infrastructure needed to evolve to support digital transformation. 

Nearly all respondents (98%) agreed that networks, WiFi infrastructure and mobile technology were “critical to future innovations in the delivery of healthcare”. However, over half (58%) said they suffered from building non-spots and that they had to switch between devices to carry out tasks (51%). 

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There are difficulties in implementing new technologies within the existing systems in the NHS (59%) and some staff have reported reverting to older processes due to connectivity issues (24%). 

These challenges are looking to be solved by the NHS’ Long Term Plan, which was published in January 2019. 

However, the NHS is plagued with variable local commission strategies and “misaligned financial incentives”. Trusts are also siloed from one another and struggle to work with the private sector. 

More concerns were raised when NHS Digital merged with NHS England in February 2023. One consultant CIO for the NHS, Jaco Vermeulen, told Tech Monitor that digital healthcare would end up being “bundled into general administration” after the merger took place. 

The private sector needs to listen and co-create with the NHS

BT’s research also shows that greater communication around technology adoption can help overcome these barriers, with half agreeing that regular feedback sessions (50%), evidence of benefits (51%) and having a clear roadmap (55%) can increase technology adoption. NHS staff have also suggested more co-creation during the development of solutions, with 79% citing the benefits of patient and public involvement (PPI) groups in tech design. 

The president of digital health at the Royal Society of Medicine, Dr Tim Ringrose, echoed the findings of the BT report and advised partners to the national health service that they need to listen and co-create solutions that have a positive impact on workloads and patient experiences. “We can all see the potential technology can have, but right now it’s not always deployed in the right ways,” Ringrose said.

Read more: NHS trials AI to tackle ‘missed appointments’ problem

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