UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock hopes NHSX will bring a new "culture of innovation" to the National Health Service as it looks to transform its use of tech and data

NHSX digital healthcare

(Credit: PxHere)

A new organisation called NHSX aims to digitally transform the UK’s current healthcare system by bpooling talent from the National Health Service, government and industry.

The Department of Health claims the current NHS systems were “designed for a pre-internet age”, making the transfer of patient data across departments sluggish.


What is NHSX?

NHSX will help to set national policy on the use of tech and data within the health service, as well as sourcing and creating solutions to the NHS’s current tech problems.

It forms part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s wider vision for the NHS, outlined in a policy paper in October last year.

It will work alongside NHS Digital, which a spokesperson confirmed will continue to work on overturning the NHS’s IT infrastructure, while the creation of NHSX will allow it to focus on its core responsibilities.

The remit of NHSX will include setting national policy and developing best practice for NHS technology digital and data; setting standards for the use of new tech in the NHS; working on the integration of NHS systems; providing open source code and tech support.

The organisation will look to experts in the fields of cyber security, data protection and technology to reach these targets.


Health Secretary hopes NHSX will create ‘unrivalled NHS’

ai and data, NHSX
health Secretary Matt Hancock

A new CEO will oversee NHSX, which will also play a more strategic role in the digital transformation of the health service.

Mr Hancock said: “Modern technology has an incredible potential to change people’s lives for the better and revolutionise the care they receive.

“Because I care about patients getting the best treatment, I care about the NHS getting the best technology.

“But everyone knows how hard it’s been to get the NHS to adopt the best in digital.

“We’ve set out a clear tech vision for the NHS, which underpins our NHS long-term plan.

“Now we’re bringing together the tech leadership into NHSX, which will be responsible for harnessing the true potential of technology to transform care, save lives, free up clinicians’ time and empower patients to take greater control of their own health.

“NHSX will combine some of the best minds from among the NHS, leading innovators, and government into one unit to set national policy, remove red tape and create a culture of innovation to allow the best innovations to flourish.

“This is just the beginning of the tech revolution, building on our long-term plan to create a predictive, preventative and unrivalled NHS.”


Updating tech in the NHS

The need to update the technology used within the NHS was reiterated by Mr Hancock’s chief technology advisor Hadley Beeman.

Hadley Beeman, chief tech advisor to secretary of state for health Mat Hancock, NHSX
Hadley Beeman, chief technology advisor to Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaking at Giant Health 2018

Speaking at the Giant Health Event 2018, a medtech conference held in London last November, Ms Beeman said: “I’ve produced a tech vision for the NHS that largely says we need to make the technology across the NHS work more like the web, where we have technical standards that are agreed upon and control at a local level.

“This will enable us to meet local needs and allow patients to choose the tools that make most sense to them.”

She also pledged to put a CIO (chief information officer) or CCIO (chief clinical information officer) on every medical board to make them “more aware of the importance of tech”.

The NHS has previously struggled to update its systems and technology, with a Freedom of Information Request by the Royal College of Surgeons published in July revealing that many hospital trusts were still reliant on “archaic technology” such as fax machines – 9,000 of which are still in use.

Other issues with current NHS IT systems include difficulties with sharing patient records and poor cyber security, which was exploited in the Wannacry cyber attack.

Discussing the challenges of digitising NHS systems, NHS Digital chief executive Sarah Wilkinson said: “The programme of digital transformation ahead of us is extraordinary in terms of its scale, its complexity and the extent to which it can change lives.

“It will require sophisticated strategic planning, strong leadership and very tight partnership between organisations across the system.

“This new joint venture [NHSX] between the organisations that currently define digital strategy and commission digital services will create cohesion in these activities by concentrating work and capabilities in one unit.”