NHSX, NHS Digital, HEE to merge with NHS England to accelerate transformation

Responsibility for digital transformation, recruitment, training and retention of NHS staff is being transferred to NHS England, under new reforms announced by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

The plans sit alongside the strategic NHS workforce plan Ministers previously commissioned to report in spring, looking at what the workforce of the future should look like.

The Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has accepted the recommendations of Laura Wade-Gery, Non-Executive Director at NHS England and Chair of NHS Digital, including to merge NHSX and NHS Digital into NHSE/I. Technology transformation is seen to be key to tackling the backlog in elective care.

LauraWadeGery"In the rest of our lives, digital has really changed how we live and we must now make this true in healthcare. The goal of my review is to equip the national centre with the right capability to support Integrated Care Systems to deliver better citizen health," said Laura Wade-Gery, Chair of NHS Digital. "We need to have the culture, operating model, skills, capabilities and processes to put data, digital and technology at the heart of how we transform health services."

NHS Digital is a non-departmental public body responsible for the information, data and IT systems for commissioners, analysts and clinicians in health and social care in England. Simon Bolton, the interim CEO of NHS Digital will become the Chief Information Officer of NHSE/I.

NHSX is a joint unit of NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care, supporting local NHS and care organisations to digitise their services, connect the health and social care systems through technology and transform the way patients’ care is delivered at home, in the community and in hospital.

NHS Digital and NHSX will form part of the new Transformation Directorate within NHSE alongside Improvement, and Innovation, Research and Life Sciences. The NHSE/I Transformation Directorate will lead the digital transformation agenda for the NHS and social care at national and ICS level.

NHSX will evolve into the strategy function of the Transformation Directorate.

The recommendations build on the progress made on digital transformation during the pandemic, following a commission by the Secretary of State in summer 2020, and will improve co-operation between the key digital bodies of the NHS by bringing them under one roof for the first time.

The NHS and social care sectors have made significant digital and technological advancements over the last few years. NHSX has fulfilled its mandate, getting digital transformation into the heart of the NHS’s future vision.

Working at pace, both NHSX and NHS Digital have delivered innovative solutions to new challenges such as monitoring patients at home in virtual wards and the roll out of NHS COVID Pass. There are now nearly 20 million users registered to the NHS App which offers a wide range of individual health benefits and allows users to have their GP records at their fingertips.

In addition to these reforms, DHSC will also establish a Digital Delivery Unit to sit within the existing NHS Delivery Unit. This single, central unit with data at its core will help government better understand the blockers to recovering NHS services following the pandemic and how they can be overcome.

"A more coherent structure that will allow us to accelerate digital transformation across health and care," acknowledged Matthew Gould, Chief Executive of NHSX. "It comes after two years in which NHSX, NHS Digital and the NHS and social care frontline have together made extraordinary progress - from allowing the NHS to move to remote working and consultations in the heat of the pandemic, to introducing virtual wards and remote monitoring of patients at home, to building the tech to underpin the vaccine rollout and the NHS COVID Pass."

The Secretary of State also set out his intention to merge the body responsible for the education and training of the health workforce, Health Education England (HEE), with NHSE/I, putting long-term planning and strategy for healthcare staff recruitment and retention at the forefront of the national NHS agenda.

HEE is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department of Health and Social Care, responsible for coordination of education and training within the health and public health workforce within England, including the training of doctors and nurses.

The current arrangements separate service and financial planning from workforce planning and development. These changes bring these three functions together at the centre of the NHS and reinforce the priority of workforce at the very heart of the NHS.

"This decision marks a step change in the approach to service delivery and workforce planning," said Chief Executive of Health Education England, Dr Navina Evans. "It presents an opportunity to bring the strengths of our HEE people in to the centre of the NHS and focus on supporting the right future of health and care for the population we serve."

HEE has helped to grow the NHS workforce rapidly and played a vital role during the pandemic, enabling the safe deployment of students to the frontline and working closely with educational institutions to enable students to complete their studies.

The workforce reforms build on the progress HEE has made, with record numbers of doctors and nurses currently working in the NHS. This includes:

  • integrating NHS, workforce and finance planning in one place at a national and local level;
  • driving changes to education and training to allow employers to recruit the health professionals they need to provide the right care to patients in the years to come;
  • enabling a single national strategy for the NHS and make every penny of the record government investment in the NHS count; and
  • providing a simplified national system and single line of accountability for NHS performance.

The changes announced are intended to "better support the recovery of NHS services, address waiting list backlogs, and support hardworking staff, all while driving forwards an ambitious agenda of digital transformation and progress" in the wake of an unprecedented £36 billion boost in funding from April 2022, thanks to the new Health and Social Care Levy.

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