Whilst the pandemic has certainly accelerated the appetite for digital social care and health – especially the use of technology in delivery of care – not everyone is feeling the benefit yet.

In 2021 I left my NHS career after 23 years of problem solving within it to join Agilisys. My departure to digital transformation has not surprised many of my peers as I have been vocal about examples of poor service delivery, unsafe and un-coordinated care delivery; not because of the efforts of good people, but because of the infrastructure that supports people to care effectively. The health service is over-reliant on the people who care, to administer it, under continually high pressure.

Over the last few months, I’ve been quietly absorbing the work of technically competent and creative people across Agilisys as they develop digital programmes of work with clients in health and social care. Here are some of my early reflections from that work and my aims for 2022.

We must embrace modern working processes before it’s too late

Digital technology provides an exciting and constantly developing range of solutions but is commonly under-represented in health and care strategic programmes. With attention now firmly on pandemic response, recovery and winter pressures, perhaps there is no better time to consider engaging the support of those with digital transformation skills and capacity to temporarily join organisations to focus primarily on mitigating the impact of high volume, high acuity demand and create better modern working processes for the teams who need capacity to both care and restore the balance to their own lives.

The government Innovation and Integration white paper in February this year made particular reference to transactional bureaucracy. I agree that the processes in health and care stifle team productivity and bewilder patients and their carers. Good service is now unfathomably reliant on extraordinary people working around processes, rather than being the norm.

Transactional bureaucracy must be reduced

Automation and artificial intelligence could resolve the many examples of documents sitting in emails or in-trays waiting for action. From your patient’s perspective, waiting without communication, or worse – being delayed beyond expectation – is harmful to care and recovery. As are repetitive unanswered calls, conflicting communication. The capability in this technology is truly revolutionary and will enable leaders to consider what they can achieve with the additional capacity freed from your most valuable and in demand resource – your teams.

As a new explorer of this technology working with Agilisys, it has caused me to challenge my perceptions. Embracing technology isn’t about replacing humans with machines, it’s about recognising that the humans running our public services are overwhelmed and the demand keeps rising. We can support them to work differently with the support of modern technology.

Integrated data and shared decision making support multi-agency team working

The government Innovation and Integration white paper reflects aspirations for joined-up approaches, collaborative relationships and population health, and supporting strategic decisions can be taken to shape health and care for the decades to come. Multi-agency collaboration is challenging for leaders trying to find a balance between the immediacy of service delivery and creating space for innovation for a better future. They don’t necessarily have the right tools and insights to help them understand how people use services from community to acute and back again. Using data intelligently is critical to service planning and delivery.

Data and intelligence too often hinder the change needed to sustain services, so the deployment of sensible local approaches can help to strike a balance between the legislation intended to protect people, and the legislation intended to protect data. For example, developing a data infrastructure alongside dynamically evolving pathways between health and social care providers with place-based approaches. Connecting care pathways and teams around the people they care for through person-based specific information, providing only what is necessary and proportionate to inform efficient and timely care delivery and support.

This action alone would improve the efficient use of our valuable and stretched workforce capacity for care. Creating a modern work environment for teams which supports healthy work and life balance and decreases risk from fatigue and presenteeism has to be a key objective for public services facing workforce challenges in 2022 and beyond.

Population health starts with personal insight and action

In an age where we are taking more interest in our own health through our phones and personal health at home devices, I am minded of how we personally interact with health support remotely and the value of being able to do so.

There is a growing gap between our personal capability to understand our own health and care needs and our expectations for connection with professional care and support when it is needed. Bridging this gap will be important in future public service sustainability that digital technologists are already working on.

As the cost of implementing digital solutions now is significantly less than continuing to react to high volume, high acuity demand, why isn’t the digital transformation agenda moving faster?

Investment, capability and capacity for innovation

The efforts of local innovative digital leaders are likely to be frustrated by heavy focus on clinical demand, IT infrastructure resolution, investment resources available for tech innovation and workforce alignment with the unrelenting emergency operating levels and the impact of pandemic response and workforce depletion.

In order to make progress, those championing digital approaches to care need alignment with corporate and clinical strategic support for investment. Even if they have that support, they are likely to be asked for evidence of short-term impact on the current key challenges of high cost, high volume, uncontrolled demand. Whilst commissioners and strategic decision-makers want the best for public spending, this approach stifles the exact innovation required to evidence the impact they are looking for.

The government and NHS England have recognised this and have supported Accelerator Programmes with some central funding. NHS Digital has recently published its intention to create a transformation factory, with the aim to attract talent from other sectors to strengthen health systems and create NHS digital leadership roles for future delivery. Whilst this might be viable as a medium to long-term plan, the battle cry is certainly to act now. As digital skill capacity and ingenuity is needed immediately to sustain public services; there are some star players on the bench.

I attended a TechUK Health and Social Care event before Christmas and amongst attendees were a wealth of organisations designing and delivering digital social care and health transformation, mature leaders, data scientists, digital technologists, strategists, software and hardware developers, suppliers and start-ups who value the public sector and seek to sustain it

I am hopeful that emerging ICS commissioning arrangements will support local digital innovation in collaboration with talented and experienced digital pioneers from outside of the NHS to inspire service pathways truly with digital at the heart of them, whilst the NHS takes the time to develop its internal future digital workforce.

What I am excited about in digital social care and health for 2022…

For those wondering what it’s like for an NHS leader to change careers to seek digital futures – I can report that I’m pleased to be here and keen to share with you all I can to sustain public sector services we can be proud of.

I intend to make digital inspiration accessible to health and social care leaders by sharing rapid, agile adoption approaches, sharing my experiences in the application of technology in UK public sector services through the lens of my previous experience as an NHS leader/commissioner.

I’ll share my thoughts about bridging the funding gap in social care, retaining workforce through modern work processes and wellbeing, and creating high-quality citizen and patient experiences through intuitive, accessible and intelligent technology-enabled care.

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