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NHS Scotland to ensure ‘digital is always available as a choice’ as part of recovery plan

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez August 27, 2021
The Scottish Government has committed more than £1 billion of targeted investment for the recovery and renewal of NHS Scotland.


The COVID-19 pandemic has placed huge pressure on healthcare systems across the world, as treatment for the novel virus took priority for months on end and other services were put on hold. However, as countries begin to gain confidence in the Vaccine Economy, governments are assessing how to not only restore regular care, but improve on healthcare delivery with the lessons learned during the pandemic. 

With this in mind, NHS Scotland has this week published its Recovery Plan, with a £1 billion backing from the Scottish Government. At the center of the document, which covers everything from primary and community care to outpatient and diagnostic procedures, is the principle that ‘digital should always be a choice' for both patients and staff. 

The document notes that the COVID-19 pandemic forced new ways of working to continue the delivery of critical services, and these new ways of working often delivered improvements. 

Commenting on NHS Scotland's Recovery Plan, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, said:

Addressing the pandemic in order to save lives and protect our NHS has come at a difficult cost. It made the delivery of what would otherwise be the normal service of our NHS harder to deliver. It has meant some people waiting longer in pain for care, or even simply longer in doubt for diagnosis.

The aim of this plan is to drive the recovery of our NHS, not just to its pre-pandemic level but beyond. This recovery plan is backed with over £1 billion of targeted investment over the next 5 years to increase NHS capacity, deliver reforms in the delivery of care, and get everyone the treatment they need as quickly as is possible.

This NHS Recovery Plan sets out key headline ambitions and actions to be developed and delivered now and over the next 5 years. While it is important to stress that recovery is the immediate task, this Plan is fundamentally about ensuring that the process of recovery also delivers long term sustainability. That is why service innovation and redesign - as well as creating additional capacity - is central to it.

The Cabinet Secretary added that the government has committed to reviewing the plan regularly and will be reported on annually to ensure its actions and outcomes are delivered. 

Innovation and redesign

The Recovery Plan is wide-ranging and includes investment in areas such as: 

  • Investing £11 million in new national and international recruitment campaigns to produce an additional 1,500 staff over the next five years for our NTCs, 1,000 mental health link workers in communities, 800 more GPs, and boosting paramedic numbers through the £10,000 Paramedic Bursary.

  • Devoting £130 million to deliver our National Cancer Plan and Detect Cancer Early Programme

  • Increasing investment in National Treatment Centres (NTCs) to more than £400 million, contributing to delivery of over 40,000 additional elective surgeries and procedures per year

  • Investing £29 million to target diagnostic backlogs, providing 78,000 additional procedures in 2021/22 rising to 90,000 per year from 2025/26

However, more broadly, the document speaks to the need to use digital and new ways of working to support an overhaul of the health system to make it sustainable over the long term. 

The Recovery Plan states: 

During the pandemic many new and different ways of working were developed to support the continued delivery of critical services. These new ways of working were borne out of necessity but in many cases they also delivered improvements. So we want to build on this work.We will support innovation in and redesign of services to ensure that more patients receive person centred care in the right place, at the right time, and in a way that helps staff deliver high quality care and treatment.

It adds that the increase in use of digital tools during the pandemic accelerated and that the time is "now right" to ensure that "digital is always available as a choice" for people accessing services and staff delivering them. 

NHS Scotland states that this will allow more people to manage their condition at home, to be able to carry out pre- and post-operative assessments remotely, and to continue to manage their recovery from home. More details of how this will be delivered in a forthcoming Digital Health and Care Strategy. 

A new National Centre for Sustainable Delivery for Health and Social Care is also being established, which NHS Scotland states will be "particularly important in driving innovation". The document notes: 

It has been established to pioneer and deliver new, better and more sustainable ways of delivering services and improving access for patients. It will be key to supporting NHS recovery and will aim both to reduce unnecessary demand for services, and also to develop new pathways of care that are more efficient and better for patients. 

This will include enhanced delivery of services in community settings, transformation of hospital pharmacy services, reducing the variation in and waiting times for planned and unplanned care, and improving overall patient experience. Not only will it maximise value for patients by avoiding waste, it will provide access to consistently high quality healthcare across Scotland.

My take

It's clear that more details are needed on how digital tools are going to be used to complement in-person care and services, which we look forward to seeing in the forthcoming Digital Health and Care Strategy. But it's good that in principle NHS Scotland is putting technology and new ways of working at the center of its plans going forward. The pandemic has forced new ways of operating on health systems, which in many cases were in dire need of modernization. With the pressure that's been placed on the NHS, now is the time to make drastic changes. 

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