NHS Long Term Plan and digitally-enabled care

NHS Long Term Plan and digitally-enabled care

Chapter 5 of the NHS Long Term Plan outlines how digitally-enabled care will go mainstream across the NHS. The Long Term Plan was published in 2019 looking ahead at the following 10 years. With the COVID-19 pandemic we have already seen a vast change in the use of digital solutions. From now until 2029 more digital changes are on the horizon.

Overarching digital goals of the NHS Long Term Plan

The NHS Long Term Plan, among other focus points, aims to move the NHS into the future, readying the service digitally for the current and future day.

As part of this, the Long Term Plan aims for a “wholesale transformation of the NHS”. The service offered in the NHS needs to match the needs and wishes of today whereas currently the delivery of care is to a certain extent still locked in the NHS’s founding days.

By 2029 the goal is for the NHS to operate on a digital-first basis, meaning care is provided at the home via digital or phone consultations with space and time allowed for face-to-face consultation. A large change of this we saw due to the COVID-19 pandemic where GPs for example offered phone consultations and appointments were scheduled in via online systems.

This digital-first approach should free up time for senior clinicians, reducing the high strain on the workload, and, as a result, offering trainees more time to learn.

But the digital steer is not solely motivated by freeing up clinicians’ time. In addition, it is aimed to offer patients easy access to their health information as well as NHS services, give patients control over their medical records, and offer tools, such as AI and decision support, to apply best practice.

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated meeting the digital goals set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. The use of digital solutions, from the use of Teams to online GP consultations and other digital initiatives, has become mainstream.

Changing from paper-based and in-person to digital

Some concrete changes set out in the plan are transforming how the NHS operates. Several aims of the plan are:

  • offering every patient digital access to their GP by 2024 including the ability to have a virtual outpatient appointment.
  • having more population health data to understand what service needs to be offered. This data will be managed in population health management solutions and will help bring fairer and more equal care.
  • offering good accessibility for healthcare software to connect with de-personalised data via APIs.
  • moving secondary care into a fully digitised system by 2024.

What about the digitally excluded?

The NHS Long Term Plan states that people will be provided digital tools that work for digitally literate as well as those who struggle using technology. The NHS Long Term Plan reveals a positive outlook, stating people will be empowered by the digital assets available to them.

Despite the care taken in the Long Term Plan to offer usable digital tools, an area of concern are the digitally excluded. Support is needed for those who have limited access to digital tools, such as computers or smartphones. At the same time those who do have access to the right tools might not be motivated to use these systems no matter how well they are adapted to the technology averse.

Read the full NHS Long Term Plan to learn about the plan in detail.