Digital, Learning, NHS

Why Global Digital Exemplars are Steering the Ship of the NHS


The NHS has come a long way from where it began, and as our world evolves and becomes ‘smarter’, our healthcare system needs to keep up to ensure patients and NHS workers are given the support they need. Over the past few years, headlines have stated how the NHS is in crisis and how it can’t balance the demands of the public. A few select Trusts are jumping into the ocean of digitalisation to save what the papers are calling “A sinking ship”. Despite the challenges the NHS has faced, in its 70 year life time it has continued to keep its head above water.

Bringing the NHS into the age of smartphones and AI is a challenge and a process. The time we are in means we are accessing information at an incredible rate and also expect our healthcare to match this fast-paced tempo.

Global Digital Exemplars (GDE) were developed as a result of The NHS Five Year Forward View, originally published in 2014. The document was created by organisations that oversee health and care services in the UK, including Public Health England, Quality Care Commission and NHS Improvement. Input was also given by patient groups and healthcare professionals, which helps to provide a real-life view of what the public needs.

The NHS Five Year Forward View aimed to develop a strategy to support the challenges that the NHS faced in 2014, and over the course of the next five years. Challenges included the higher cost of treatments and the increase of life expectancy. Healthcare has never been more costly due to an ever-expanding population, the NHS is increasingly under strain. The increase of life expectancy comes as a result of the general population being more conscious of wellbeing (diet and exercise) alongside access to treatments that prolong life, according to Cancer Research UK, cervical cancer mortality rates have decreased by 72% since the early 1970s.

In addition another paper, The Watcher Review, which outlined how a more digitalised approach to healthcare could prove beneficial in supporting the challenges the NHS is facing. It focused on the use of further implementing IT in healthcare (for example, the use of electronic patient records) and other digital tools to achieve a paper-free system.

But What is a GDE?

A GDE is an NHS provider (Hospital, Trust etc.) that is at the forefront of embracing the digitalisation in healthcare. This could mean that they are implementing a paperless system or using online booking services, to name a few.

They have a responsibility to support the growth of digitalisation amongst other NHS providers, by sharing their experiences and learnings from implementing new digital solutions. In these stormy waters, it is important for the crew to pull together to find the best of breed digital solutions that work for everyone.

NHS England is supporting these digitally advanced providers (advanced mental health and acute Trusts) through funding and international partnerships.  Funding for Acute Trusts is £10million and for Advanced Mental Health Trusts, £5million. These providers could become GDE’s over the course of two – three and a half years.

The Digital Exemplars are partnered with Fast Followers, to encourage growth and spread the word of best practice and innovation. Fast Followers are also supported with NHS England funding and will enable GDE’s to develop effective models that can be rolled out across the UK.

Here’s an Example:

In September 2016, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London became joint Acute Global Digital Exemplars, meaning in a few years they could become GDEs. They entered into an agreement to share one electronic patient record system, with the aim of providing patients across both hospitals with better care.

Zoe Penn, Medical Director for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Many of us have experienced the benefits of using the latest technology in our daily lives. The NHS needs to get up to speed with this worldwide digital revolution in order to improve care and experience for patients and staff alike.”

Why are They Valuable?

According to the Office for National Statistics’ report “Overview of the UK Population March: 2017”, The UK population grew to an estimated 65.1 million in 2015, of those there are a growing number of over 68-year-olds due to the spike in births at the end of World War II. This increase means that we now need healthcare to be targeted to an aging population, which may result in a higher frequency of age-related illnesses.

Consequently, there is more of a need to be using “Smart-Tools” to help the NHS and its Trusts to function more efficiently, this can be facilitated using digital health platforms.

The growing population also means that hospital appointments and time with doctors are becoming even more valuable. The use of digital health platforms can empower patients by having them be in control of their lives and how and when they seek treatment from healthcare professionals.

It has been proven that certain platforms will and can save the NHS money and simultaneously create better experiences for patients. After implementing DrDoctor, our online booking system, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust saw a decrease of 30% in ‘Do Not Attend Rates’ and made an overall saving of £3.6 million. Trusts and providers that are showing their dedication to technology are not only benefiting from receiving funds from NHS England but are also supporting the community that is the NHS to better serve their patients.

GDE’s – Back to the Future

Through developing the GDE community the UK has the opportunity to propel itself to the forefront of digitalisation and being a nation that others can look to for guidance on the implementation of healthcare technology.

This year the NHS will turn 70, established in 1948, the NHS has grown and developed throughout the years with public health and safety in mind. To keep up with the evolving community pockets, in 1954, smaller GP practices were established. Interestingly, in 1982, the Koerner Steering Group released its first report, giving recommendations for changes in statistics collected by the NHS, if deployed, it was believed that the improved data would help to improve the quality and efficiency of the NHS. One of the clauses in the report was: To agree, implement, and keep under review principles and procedures to guide the future development of health services information systems. As we can see now the NHS is doing exactly that by supporting the adoption of technology in GDE’s.

In 1998, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) was developed, to provide guidance on the use of technology and to strengthen quality control and deployment of technology.

And finally, in 2017 NHS England published the Next Steps of the Five Year Forward View, to continue to do what the NHS has done since creation – keep up with the health demands of the growing public.

So What Does This Really Mean?

GDE’s are helping the NHS to enter the digital age and without more investment and exploration into technology, the NHS may lag. The uptake of digitalisation throughout NHS providers can also result in a better experience for their primary stakeholders, patients, but also for all of those working in the NHS.

Winston Churchill once said: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”, the reality is, perfection can almost never be achieved. However improvement is definitely tangible, the Next Steps of the Five Year Forward View are guidelines to exactly that. The GDE programme is not expecting Trusts to become a science fiction scene in five years, hospitals run by robots and cyborg surgeons. It endeavours to support the implementation of change to keep up with our hunger for technology that can, and will benefit patients.

Navigating the waves of healthcare is always challenging, however, digitalisation and the GDE programme could be a lifejacket the NHS can use to get to calmer waters.