School of Social and Political Science

UK Government is making inadequate progress on digitising the NHS, according to new report using evidence from SPS expert



The NHS app on a phone screen


The UK Government is making inadequate progress on vital commitments to digitise the NHS, an independent panel of experts – using evidence from an academic at the School of Social and Political Science - has found. 

SPS's Professor Robin Williams, along with Dr Kathrin Cresswell (University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute), provided evidence for a new report by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee Expert Panel, which has criticised the UK Government for not meeting its commitments to digitise the NHS.  

The panel said that the Government’s progress in digitising the NHS is inadequate, and that it has not fulfilled commitments made.  

The new report follows a 2022 Government policy paper, which said that the digitisation of health and social care is essential to deliver the promise of improved and better integrated health and social care services. 

The expert panel evaluated commitments made by the Government, including the delivery of integrated health and care records, the roll-out of the NHS app and ensuring a workforce had the necessary digital skills.

It said that key Government commitments on workforce and the use of patient information were either not met or were not on track to be met. It added that overall progress towards improving the digital capabilities of the NHS was too slow, and often lacked support and funding. The experts concluded that social care was often missed out in commitments, stifling progress across the health and care system. 

The expert panel also noted its concern that ministers’ ambition to digitise the NHS will not succeed without an effective workforce strategy to train, recruit and retain sufficient specialised digital staff. 

Professor Williams and Dr Cresswell’s evidence was based on their Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) Programme Evaluation, which they led at the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. This team assessed the 2017 NHS England's Global Digital Exemplar Programme, which was designed to support ‘selected digitally advanced mental health, acute provider organisations, specialist provider organisations and ambulance provider organisations, who through funding and international partnership opportunities [would] become Exemplars over two to three and a half years’. The team had various research outputs and a final report

Despite some problems, Professor Williams said: ‘Our report emphasised factors that had underpinned the marked success of the Global Digital Exemplar programme - which was the first very successful large scale digitisation programme since the failure of the £13bn National Programme for IT.’

Among the evidence that Professor Williams and Dr Cresswell submitted to the committee was the finding that organisational and cultural changes in the health and social care sectors are needed to fully meet the commitments. They added that there is a constant problem of retaining staff with digitalisation expertise within the NHS, as many move on to the private sector.  

Professor Williams and Dr Cresswell’s evidence concludes that, ‘One of the biggest problems in the digitalisation of health and social care, are the frequent changes in leadership and associated strategic direction. There is currently no integrated long-term vision of the unfolding architecture of digital technologies and their contribution to health service delivery building on previous experiences.’

The full report from the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee is available to read here.