Public Ranks Digital NHS Services Last In Spending Study

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Cancer care, staff retention and mental health considered most important for budget increase spending, with access to digital services at the bottom of the heap

A new study has ranked digital services as the lowest priority for new NHS spending in the eyes of the public, with better quality care and staff retention ranking at the top of the list.

The study, based on a poll carried out for think tank IPPR, indicates that access to digital services is little valued by the public, in comparison to services such as cancer care, which ranked at the top of the list.

The survey asked 1,800 adults, who were representative of the broader population, how they would prioritise the spending of a £20.5bn budget boost by 2023 that was promised by the government earlier this year.

The plan is set to see spending increase 3.4 percent each year over the next five years, with the new funds earmarked for spending on the main NHS mandate, excluding areas such as workforce training and capital budgets.

Low priority

ComRes, the agency that carried out the poll, analysed the results to assign each of 16 areas a pioritisation score. Digital services came in last, with a score of 1.2.

Better quality cancer care was at the top of the list, scoring 9.8, and was followed by staff recruitment, training and retention, and better mental health care, which ranked second and third.

Current health secretary Matt Hancock was formerly Minister for the Digital Economy, and has talked up plans to revolutionise IT at the NHS.

In October, for instance, Hancock kicked off a £9 million competition aimed at delivering high-tech innovations for the health sector, including projects aimed at dealing with the privacy issues around the exploitation of sensitive healthcare data.

But at present, the study found that digital NHS services are little used, with only 2 percent of respondents reporting digitally enabled health transactions — in spite of 90 percent saying they had internet access and 73 percent having access to a smartphone.

The findings led IPPR to conclude in its report that the NHS “has failed to fully embrace the fourth industrial revolution”.

Quality boost

But in spite of an apparent lack of public interest, IPPR argued that the underlying use of technology and data are essential to delivering the higher-quality healthcare that respondents did say they valued.

“The public do not want to prioritise digital health, but they do value high quality care,” IPPR said. “So where technology can help deliver this, it should be prioritised.”

Machine learning can help improve the prediction and prevention of disease, for instance, while increased automation can free up staff availability, IPPR said.

As a result, the think tank said the government’s expected plan for the new cash should include a new information governance system and should require all NHS trusts to have a CTO at board level.

NHS leaders in England are expected to publish a long-term plan for the health service, including spending priorities, inthe first week of December.

IPPR senior research fellow Harry Quilter-Pinner said that in return for the new £20.5bn the NHS needed to deliver “fundamental reform”.

Specific reforms recommended by the think tank included a ban on smoking in high streets and parks, minimum unit pricing of alcohol and the extension of the sugar tax to more foods and drinks.

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