The Government has made ‘inadequate’ progress in digitising the NHS, including on integrated care records, an expert panel has said.

The independent panel – convened by the Health and Social Care Select Committee – warned that improvements had come too slowly and often lacked proper funding.

In a new report, published today (17 February), the experts used a CQC-style rating system to assess the Government’s progress against a policy paper the DHSC has published in 2022.

The experts’ ratings cast severe doubt on the Government’s ability to ensure its workforce has the necessary digital skills and to fully roll-out the NHS App and integrated care records.

They warned ministers’ ambitions to digitise the NHS will fail without an effective workforce strategy to recruit and retain digital staff.

The panel also warned that delegating responsibility for digitation to ICSs risked ‘increasing variability’ in their digital maturity, with the need for ICBs to bid for funding meaning they must choose between either the pace or scope of local digital transformation.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, chair of the expert panel, said: ‘What is particularly disappointing is that the Government recognises that the digitisation of the NHS is essential to bring about real benefits to patients, for example by helping them to monitor and manage long-term health conditions independently. Yet time and again, promises have been made but not delivered, hampering wider progress.’

She added: ‘We heard about issues with interoperability between systems and providers, making it difficult for all parts of the system to communicate effectively, leading to delays and efficiency losses.

‘Evidence also highlights challenges in recruiting, retaining and building the specialised digital workforce, yet ministers have delayed a strategy focused on delivering a digital workforce.’

According to the expert panel’s new report, the Government had performed inadequately in its plans to:

  • Roll out integrated health and care records for all NHS users
  • Develop a mechanism to de-identify data collection from GP practices by September 2019
  • Co-create a national digital workforce strategy to upskill its staff and attract employees
  • Grow and retain its digital workforce to meet demand.

The experts also said the Government need to improve on its approach to:

  • Register 75% of adults on the NHS App by 2024
  • Streamline contracting methods to leverage NHS buying power and simplify selling to buyers.

The experts also singled out the Government’s limited progress in making the NHS’ buying and selling process easier and more cost effective.

They criticised the lack of a ‘clear systematic’ mechanism for buyers to operate at scale, suggesting it was a ‘missed opportunity’ to provide value for money to the taxpayer.

They proposed that a contract vehicle to enable joint purchasing across multiple ICBs could ‘significantly reduce costs’ in this aspect.

It comes after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week warned that ICSs will fail unless the Government addresses the core crises facing the NHS: namely, its critical workforce shortages and the lack of a strategy to fix it.