The NHS long-term plan – The focus on technology and data

February 2019

In January 2019, the NHS published its "Long Term Plan" ("the Plan"), which outlines how the NHS aims to develop and improve healthcare services over the next 10 years. The Plan is split into six chapters, which cover the key ways in which the NHS will improve the service it provides to patients.

The NHS has dedicated an entire chapter to technology and data titled "digitally-enabled care will go mainstream across the NHS", which pledges the NHS' commitment to improving their digital capabilities. The NHS hopes that its business model will be revolutionised through embarking upon a wide-ranging and funded program to update its digitally enabled care. As a result, the Plan will present both benefits and challenges for the NHS and may also provide a number of opportunities to businesses, particularly those within the life sciences sector.

NHS and digital technology

The NHS aims to "empower patients" by allowing them to digitally access its services, primarily through the use of the NHS app. The NHS app will provide patients with personal information such as their health records and provide a gateway to services such as digital consultations and healthcare advice. The NHS also aims to embrace home-based and wearable technology to monitor patient's health, which could provide benefits for the patient and reduce the burden on NHS services. These developments will hopefully pave the way for companies to enter into partnerships with the NHS, in particular those offering digital health products and services.

The NHS has acknowledged that their current technology model can be a hindrance to healthcare professionals and is in great need of improvement. The Plan aims for the NHS to reach a core level of digitalisation by 2024 and for patient records and the care plan system to be fully digitally integrated, so that they can be accessed and interacted with from any location. The Plan also envisages that in the future, healthcare professionals will be assisted by artificial intelligence (AI) systems; already Google and Moorfields Eye Hospital have been working together to implement a system using DeepMind to diagnose eye conditions through analysing 3D digital scans. Moving forward, the NHS foresees using AI technology in a number of ways, such as aiding in decision support and reducing unwanted variations across the provision of care. Currently, the adoption of AI by the NHS is sparse, indicating future opportunities for those offering AI platforms.

Babylon Health provides an example of how companies offering health care technology can benefit by partnering with the NHS. Babylon partnered with the NHS North London CCG in 2017 to launch the "GP at hand" service, which provides patients with a digital way to access an NHS doctor. Babylon now also offers an artificial intelligence platform to check a patient's symptoms and act as a triage service, which has been trialled by the NHS as an option for replacing the 111 service.

NHS and data

One of the key objectives of the Plan's technology and data strategy is to utilise population data to improve population health. The NHS aims to allow population level data to be extracted from local records and be depersonalised, so that it can be made available to assist with population health management and with research. The NHS hopes that this data can be used to identify groups of people who are vulnerable to health risks and predict which individuals are likely to benefit from healthcare interventions. This will also be beneficial to companies within the life sciences sphere, as the NHS aims to make this data available to those working in industry, with the aim of driving research and innovation.

Challenges and opportunities

Despite the positive impact that these developments will likely have on the NHS, they will also present a number of challenges, particularly with regard to cyber security and data protection. The NHS may be identified as a potential target by cyber criminals, meaning that adequate security and monitoring systems will need to be integrated across the entire NHS system. The development of the NHS App and the use of population data will pose its own set of challenges in the field of data protection and privacy and the NHS will need to take into account government safeguards and the legal framework surrounding the use of data in this way. There are also regulatory frameworks to consider, particularly surrounding the use of digital medical devices. This is a hot topic at the moment due to the new Medical Devices Regulation coming into force in May 2020, which is something that both the NHS and technology providers may need to take into consideration.

For digitally enabled care to be implemented across the NHS as a whole, the NHS will need to reach out to and work with a range of technology and service providers. The wide-ranging nature of the Plan will likely present a number of opportunities for businesses, particularly those within the field of digital health, artificial intelligence and cyber security, indicating that this is an exciting time for companies to explore the possibility of working with the NHS in the future.

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Ashley Stansfield

Ashley Stansfield

Ashley is a member of the Patents team in our London office.

"The NHS may be identified as a potential target by cyber criminals, meaning that adequate security and monitoring systems will need to be integrated across the entire NHS system."