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NHSX and NHS Digital merge into NHSE

On November 22nd it was announced that two divisions of the NHS, who between them have responsibility for the digital transformation of the health service, will merge into NHSE and NHS Improvement.

NHSX, which manages a budget of over £1 billion to find ways of digitally transforming the health and social care system, and NHS Digital, which designs, develops and operates the IT and data services that underpin the NHS, will both see their individual brands retired. They will then get different names under the NHSE umbrella; NHSX becomes the strategy part of a new Transformation directorate, and NHS Digital becomes the CIO directorate. It is understood that Simon Bolton, the interim CEO of NHS Digital, will become NHS England’s Chief Information Officer. He will report to NHSE and Improvement’s Director of Transformation, Tim Ferris.

The hope is that this organisational structure will be more streamlined and joined up, and will form a key part of the way in which the NHS steps up to the challenges not only of recovering after the pandemic, but of creating a truly digital service fit for all for the long-term.

The Health Secretary has made no secret of his views on the matter, commenting in a recent speech to the NHS Providers conference that he believed the splitting of digital leadership between three bodies was an unusual way of organising things. He was careful, however, to recognise the huge amount of work already put into to digital transformation during the Coronavirus pandemic (including virtual wards, the NHS Covid Pass and other innovations). He said, “it does strike me as a bit odd, let’s say, that digital leadership is currently split between NHSE, NHSX and NHS Digital. I’m very interested in seeing how we can bring together critical decision makers, whether it’s at a local or national level.”

His comments are likely to echo the findings of an ongoing review, led by Laura Wade-Gery. Her review, begun under the previous Health Secretary and delayed due to the pandemic, was tasked with determining the capabilities and operating model needed to make the digital transformation set out in the NHS’s Long Term Plan a reality. However, there is currently no timescale as to when the review might report its findings, and it has itself attracted criticism for the alleged £600k of fees paid to consultants McKinsey.

NHS Digital has also come in for criticism recently when the GP data sharing scheme it had proposed was halted due to widespread opposition from staff and patients alike. And though the new transformation department was hinted at earlier this year, the head of NHSX had denied speculation that his team would be disappearing.

In the same speech, the Health Secretary also emphasised that the transformation would be larger and broader than any one government, “with shared strategies and clear accountability for delivery” as well as “far-reaching plans that shun short-termism and look at what fundamental changes we need, looking far beyond the life-cycle of a single parliament.”

Our training specialists at Thornfields offer courses on Understanding the Changing NHS Landscape and many other topics. Contact them today using their online form to see how they can help you and your primary care team with digital transformation.


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