The NHS Long Term Plan was published on 7 January 2019 [1]. The plan sets out aspirations for the next decade. It underpins the importance of technology in the future of the NHS; laying out the main priorities for digital transformation, changing the way that the NHS cares for citizens.

NHS Digital are harnessing the power of information and technology to make national health and care services better.

Their aim is to drive the use of technology forward in the NHS. As an organisation they:

  • Run the core IT infrastructure and services of the health and care systems
  • Design, build and procure new digital service and systems
  • Collect, process, link and disseminate data for the health and care system
  • Develop and disseminate IT and data standards
  • Act as the cyber security partner to the health and care system

Additionally, they see the importance of engaging nurses as essential partners for Digital Transformation in the NHS.

Engaging Nurses in Digital Transformation

“Nurses are critically positioned to drive digitally enabled care transformation, informed by evidence and insights. Nurses with digital health skills are better able to influence digital health decisions from ward to board, and change their organisation’s culture for a safer, more effective, efficient and sustainable future.”

Dr Natasha Phillips, Chief Nursing Information Officer NHSX [2] 

Jo Dickson is Chief Nurse at NHS digital [3]. Alongside NHSX, they have implemented a plan to engage and inspire nurses in the adoption of new technology in the healthcare system.

The pillars of the plan are:

  • STRATEGY: Launch a strategic roadmap for digital transformation in the NHS, involving nurses
  • LEADERSHIP: Create a nursing leadership community able to support the wider profession
  • EDUCATION: Work to address the digital competency of all nurses
  • PRACTICE: Deliver a published standard for the fundamentals of nursing practice to support patient safety
  • RESEARCH: Establish a plan for work that ensures information about nursing care can inform research

NHS Digital and NHSX commissioned a review of health guidance for nurses, interviewing digital health nurse thought-leaders. A 17-question digital maturity survey was completed by 157 professionals including CNOSs, CNIOs, Clinical Informatics Practitioners, Matrons of Digital Health and Digital Nurses.

Covid-19 and the Impact on Digitisation

Part of the survey involved asking nurses whether Covid-19 has impacted the use of technology in nursing care.

“The acceleration of digital health in nursing practice in response to the Covid pandemic is largely seen as positive and sustainable”

“Clinical need has facilitated the rapid implementation and widespread adoption of many technologies, including e-observations and handover, virtual meetings and consultations.”

“The impact of digital transformation and the profile and value of clinical informatics is better recognised across the organisation.”

At the start of the pandemic, many GPs and specialists turned to video consultations to reduce patient flow through healthcare facilities and limit infectious exposures.

However, video consultation is not appropriate for every patient or consultation.  Some patients may not be able to operate a device. As with any innovation, regular audits can help ensure that video consults are safe and do not widen health inequalities. [4]

Educating Nurses

NHS Digital’s focus for educating the nursing workforce on the digital transformation of the NHS falls into three domains:

  1. What are the training needs for nurses wishing to build digital health into their practice?
  2. How can digital health be incorporated into undergraduate nursing education?
  3. How can pre-existing formal and informal networks for digitally enabled nurses be used to support professional education needs?

Currently, undergraduate teaching does not accurately represent digital healthcare in nursing. This can result in misunderstanding the role of data and digital in healthcare.

The entire workforce needs to be upskilled to increase digital capability across the board, change the culture of digital healthcare within the profession.

The responsibilities of a digital nursing position are not standardised, resulting in a lack of clear progression and unequal weighting of competencies and objectives.

This leads to digital leaders feeling isolated in their professions. Networks are key to establishing support frameworks and mentoring opportunities.

Additionally, NHS Digital and NHSX commissioned a survey which asked respondents about their thoughts on digital nursing networks within the NHS:

Contributors reported enjoying strong communities of interest and networks that would benefit from light-touch central organisation.”

“The ability to share digital solutions across the provider networks was essential to move forward at pace and meet both the internal and external thirst for reliable data.”

“Those nurses that become early adopters of digital health can find themselves isolated and unsupported by their managers. “

Ultimately, nurses should have adequate access to technology, and they should be supported through a standardised education and staff networks.

[1] NHS Long Term Plan. 2019

[2] Phillips, Natasha. Chief Nursing Information Officer NHSX

[3] Dickson, Jo. Chief Nurse at NHS digital

[4] The BMJ. 2020. Video consultations in primary and specialist care during the covid-19 pandemic and beyond

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While the NHS implements its long-term plan to digitise healthcare, it is essential to engage nurses in this new digital strategy. This article outlines the need for digital integration into the nursing workforce.

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