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NHSX officially opens for business

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez July 4, 2019
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHSX CEO Matthew Gould officially launched the new technology unit for the health service this week.

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The National Health Service’s new technology unit - NHSX - has officially opened for business this week, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHSX CEO Matthew Gould making an appearance at the newly created organisation’s launch event.

Leaving as Director General for Digital and Media at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matthew Gould has been touring the country’s NHS and social care organisations for a month before officially taking up his position at NHSX this week. On conclusion of his tour, Gould said he is “blown away” by the work that the organisations do.

The launch of NHSX comes as the Head of Design at NHS Digital this week outlined the decision to withdraw the NHS Common User Interface, which was introduced over a decade ago to standardise on the design of UIs for healthcare computing systems, but is now “outdated”.

Part of Hancock’s renewed plan for technology across the NHS is to focus on open standards, interoperability, user-led design and a cloud first approach.

The Health Secretary has said that vendors that don’t comply with the new playbook for NHS tech will be phased out in the coming years, and has instead pitched a NHS-as-a-Platform model for the health service.

The Department for Health and Social Care has said that NHSX will be responsible for mandating the use of “internationally recognised technology and data standards across the NHS to ensure all systems can talk to each other”.

Although the organisation has only officially opened this week, Gould has wasted no time in exercising NHSX’s new central spend controls and has carried out a review of NHS tech transformation programmes - reducing the number from 30 to 10.

Gould has outlined NHSX’s key priorities as:

  • reducing the burden on clinicians and staff, so they can focus on patients
  • giving people the tools to access information and services directly
  • ensuring clinical information can be safely accessed, wherever it is needed
  • aiding the improvement of patient safety across the NHS
  • improving NHS productivity with digital technology

He recently said that he wants the organisation to remain as ‘thin’ as possible - not building too much and allowing others to create on and use its platforms. He said:

First, we’re going to focus on standards and platforms, keeping the centre as ‘thin’ as possible. This is how the internet works and it’s the only way we will ever be able to be able to transform an organisation as large as the NHS.

Standards are the common technical and semantic rules that everyone agrees on in order to participate in a system. Plug sockets are a standard, URLs for web pages are a standard. In the NHS standards are essential for delivering interoperability, so essential diagnostic information gets to where it’s needed. Standards also mean we can more easily ‘plug in’ new digital services once they’ve been invented.

But we don’t want to build many digital services ourselves. There are plenty of clinicians, charities, start-ups and NHS trusts that can do a much better job of designing new services than we can at the centre. Instead, as I’ve previously blogged, we will focus on creating platforms that other innovators can build on.

Unsurprisingly comparisons are being made between the Government Digital Service (GDS) and NHSX, given that GDS also began as a central function, with a mandate to set standards and improve the use of technology across Whitehall.

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