The Department of Health and Social Care has announced that it will provide £40 million to tackle the slow login times faced by staff across the National Health Service (NHS).
Matthew Gould, CEO of the recently created central digital for the organisation, NHSX, has said that the announcement shows his unit is “listening” and that the funding should “make a difference to the biggest concern clinical staff told us about”.
NHS staff often have to log into multiple computer programmes when providing healthcare to a patient, with each programme requiring its own login details. Some staff are needing to log into as many as 15 different systems.
The Department of Health and Social Care said that staff are required to remember multiple complex passwords or use the same one on multiple systems, which is potentially a cybersecurity risk.
It is hoped that if the project is successful it will free up more time for one-to-one patient care. A similar project at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, which implemented single sign-on technology, saw login times reduced from 1 minute 45 seconds to just 10 seconds.
At the same hospital, which sees almost 5,000 logins a day, it saved over 130 hours of staff time. Replicating these time savings across the whole of the NHS could see huge potential benefits.
However, the project won’t be without its challenges - particularly regarding integration and achieving a consistent experience across what is a very diverse and fragmented organisation.
The ‘logins project’ will focus on 3 main areas, according to the Department. These include:
Working with IT system suppliers to standardise logins and provide multi-factor logins, like finger print access, rather than password-led logins.
Ensuring trusts update their processes to give staff appropriate access permissions for the systems they need to treat patients.
Integrating local and national systems so staff can access the full range of clinical and workforce systems to support their needs.
Points two and three are likely to be particularly challenging, given the complexity of NHS systems and the differing stages of maturity across each organisation.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:
I want to harness the best digital technology to improve care for patients and ease the burden on our staff. And to do that, we need to get the basics right. Too often, outdated technology slows down and frustrates staff, and prevents them from giving patients their full attention and the care they deserve.
It is frankly ridiculous how much time our doctors and nurses waste logging on to multiple systems. As I visit hospitals and GP practices around the country, I’ve lost count of the amount of times staff complain about this. It’s no good in the 21st century having 20th century technology at work. This investment is committed to driving forward the most basic frontline technology upgrades, so treatment can be delivered more effectively and we can keep pace with the growing demand on the NHS.
Bridging the gap
There has been a desire within government for many years now to bridge the gap between the NHS and social care. It is thought that technology could play a key role in this area.
To this end, a further £4.5 million is going to be made available to local authorities to develop digital adult social care projects to “support the most vulnerable in society to live independently for longer and improve sharing across the NHS and social care”.
The Department said that examples of what the money could be used for, include:
Artificial intelligence with assistive technology: using sensors to establish normal behaviour for individuals, for example sleep patterns, use of kettles and walking routes, and alerting carers where there are variances.
Creating shared care records which combine both medical and social care information, with NHS and care staff able to access the record.
Allowing information held by the care home to smoothly integrate into hospital IT systems as a person is admitted to hospital.
In addition to this, a new ‘digital aspirant’ programme is being set up to improve the digital capability of NHS Trusts. Details on this are still sparse, but the Department said that funding will be provided over several years to assist with digital transformation projects and will aim to “raise the bar” across the NHS by making sure organisations have a core set of capabilities in place.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, will also commute to designing a “model of what excellence looks like”, so that every provider knows what they need to do to be “outstanding on technology in the 2020s”.
This will be assessed as part of the Care Quality Commission’s inspection regime, with Trusts needing to meet minimum technology standards.
Chief Executive of NHSX, Matthew Gould, said:
If you work in the NHS, the tech should not be getting in the way of your ability to do your job. Tech should be something you rarely think about because it just works. Today’s announcements mean we can start to tackle one of the biggest gripes staff have with their tech. It will allow staff across the NHS to spend more time with their patients and less time fighting their computers.
The creation of NHSX was announced in February last year, with the unit then appointing Matthew Gould, previously the Director General for Digital and Media at DCMS, as CEO in April.
In June it was then revealed that NHSX had completed a review of NHS tech spending and announced that it would be reducing centrally funded tech programmes from 30 to 10.
At the time the Health Secretary also revealed a new technology strategy for the NHS, which focuses on open standards, interoperability, user-led design and a cloud-first approach. Hancock said that vendors that don’t comply with the new playbook for NHS tech will be phased out in the coming years and has pitched a NHS-as-a-Platform model.
I’m sure many NHS staff reading this announcement will welcome the idea of reduced login times and a simpler approach to accessing an array of systems. However, just because the money has been made available and a commitment made, doesn’t mean the outcome will be achieved. This won’t be easy. As noted above, the NHS isn’t a single organisation in many respects - each Trust or healthcare provider has their own systems, contracts and complex processes. Integration and redefining processes is hard, particularly across national and local levels. However, what’s good is that the Department and NHSX have focused on user need and are attempting to tackle a problem that could build foundations for tackling other problems across the NHS.