London Tech Week: Fireside chat with Jenny Thomas and Matthew Gould

Last month, as a part of London Tech Week, Jenny Thomas, Programme Director of DigitalHealth.London, interviewed Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX, on how digital health has been thrown to centre stage in the last 18 months in response to COVID-19. We’ve provided a summary of the discussion.

How digital health has played a role in the response to the pandemic:

  • A decade’s worth of digital transformation has happened in the last 18 months
  • Interactions between clinicians and patients moved to online platforms and this allowed staff to see what worked and what doesn’t  
  • Health sector colleagues worked remotely, which impacted attitudes – things that were thought to be impossible were now possible; through team effort, a transition was managed at extraordinary speed
  • Data flowed easily for the purposes of direct care and research, and it was easier for patient data to move between clinicians
  • We went from knowing the theoretical impact of data, but not being able to exploit it – to making use of data and seeing what the future might look like

How the NHS embraced innovators:

  • There was one overriding goal during the pandemic, meaning innovation spread and speed of adoption was much faster
  • The use of remote monitoring technology was turbo charged
  • During the pandemic, NHSX team set up a procurement framework, to help trusts buy remote monitoring technology confidently and efficiently
  • The team set up almost 100 virtual covid wards and blood pressure monitors for hypertension patients

Lessons learnt from the past 18 months:

  • The sense of urgency and compelling need to act has lessened as the pandemic has eased
  • But we recognise the need for digital and innovation to be front and centre in the health and care vision for the future. If we want the same or better level of care, we need to start doing things differently
  • NHSX have brought clarity to the system so that innovators can operate more easily in it. For example, ‘What good looks like’ and also the ‘Who pays’ guidance documents were published
  • For the first time, it is clear for front line healthcare leaders, what they need to be doing within their organisations and/or systems
  • It has also provided clarity on what organisations are expected to pay for out of their own budgets. This lack of clarity was a disincentive for investing in digital innovation in the past

How we ensure inequality issues are addressed and encourage organisations to embrace them:

  • We need to align incentives to make this happen. This will be done by integrating the need for digital transformation and the need for a clearer approach on tackling health inequalities within key planning guidance and direction from NHS England
  • If the correct key messages are set out, digital could be the force to address inequalities, allowing us to reach people and provide services in different and more effective ways
  •  It will be important to ensure that every digital programme is designed with the knowledge of how it will impact different parts of the population, making sure the patient voice is heard and the data sets used to verify and develop algorithms are representative
  • We need a platform upon on which innovation can happen, that will allow people to address particular needs of the population
  • The NHS app was intentionally built for basic uses, and then exposed the data feeds that powered the app – meaning individuals with the correct permissions could access this data, and then either create other patient facing services, or even create integrated services within the NHS app itself
  • This could mean a seamless transition between natively provided services and services provided by an innovator that has been commissioned to do so
  • In turn, this could increase the potential and ability for innovators to come in and address issues and inequalities  
  • By including the COVID pass in the NHS app, it now has ten million new users, which serves as useful platform for reaching out to and offering services to new users we didn’t have access to before

How to drive innovation in a large organisation like the NHS:

  • It is rarely technology that is the issue in driving innovation, it is more about the culture, the people and the systems
  • We tend to focus on technology for improving systems and not the people
  • Constant attention to the messages the leadership give to the wider team around technology is key, as well as looking at structures, incentives and also how easy it is for frontline leaders to do the right thing

The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is a collaborative programme funded by London’s three Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners, Imperial College Health Partners, and the Health Innovation Network, MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.