What is this NES Digital Service thing about then? image

A few weeks ago I began to work with some people to develop a new ‘national digital platform’ for the health and care sector. We want to take a fresh approach, both about what we’re doing and how we go about it.

So, as people keep asking me: “What are you up to Geoff?”

Well, it’s about technology, and it’s about you. Technology really does matter for your health. Whether you’re booking an appointment with a family doctor, looking for a repeat prescription, or interested in results of a health check, technology is used by the NHS staff that you deal with. And if you’re living in one part of Scotland but need to get treatment in another part, technology is essential so staff can share the right information about your health.

The problem is, NHSScotland technology has been built in bits, over decades, not by one NHS organisation, but by lots of them, all across the country. That means lots of different systems, that all need to join up if we’re to get the best possible outcomes for you.

Many of the systems and products we have work well, for their original purpose. They have been carefully procured with a lot of thought and effort. Managers, clinicians and sometimes patients have been involved in the commissioning process. But overall, NHS technology is a bit like a large engine where you recruit lots of talented engineers to each build separate parts, then staff try very hard to fit them together. Because they have been developed at different times to different standards it’s hard to connect up these systems. That’s why many of the stories we hear are about blockages, bottlenecks and workarounds.

Data are held in a combination of local servers, regional data centres, a national data centre, the cloud, other clouds, and paper. There is a lot of duplication of data, typing things into multiple systems, printing them from one system and scanning them into another. It makes it a lot harder for staff to get your information to the place it needs to be, and that matters for your health.

And we do not have direct control of these systems. If we want a change we often need to go back to the seller and pay for them to build an update.

Policymakers, expert advisors and staff themselves have all told us that we need a new approach to deliver the full potential of technology to improve quality of care. That’s where the NDS comes in.

We want to build a digital platform for health and social care. A digital platform is a shared infrastructure that other systems can be built upon. By establishing the foundations first, we can outline a common set of standards for any subsequent systems. Then we can go on to either build new clinical systems ourselves, or enable others to build systems using the same platform and standards. New systems will naturally plug together, giving us for the first time an integrated approach.

Not only will staff be able to get access to the data they need in real time, it will also open up the possibilities for better research, bringing future benefits. It will be more secure – less risk of your data either being lost or inappropriately accessed. And it will open up opportunities for all of us as citizens to access our information when we want it, in ways that suit us.

So that is what we’re up to. We won’t be able to do all this ourselves – we want to collaborate. And we are actively looking for the best people to build these plans into a reality.