Digital can deliver for the NHS

A digitally enabled NHS can attract new staff, relieve stress and enhance care, reveals new BT research conducted with NHS employees.

Nearly three quarters of NHS staff believe technology could help transform patient care in England, with more than 80% claiming it could attract more ’digital natives’ into the workforce, according to a new study by BT.

The research, which polled respondents at 136 different NHS and integrated care organisations within the NHS, indicates that NHS staff view technology as a key aspect of healthcare, but the intended benefits are not always felt where they are most needed.

BT is committed to working together with the NHS to build smarter, safer, more efficient services for everyone. It says the study proves the need for new technology but also notes the challenges reported by NHS staff on how health services are adopting this tech on the frontline. 77% of respondents cited lack of funding as a major hurdle, while a lack of existing skills and resources (75%) and areas with no connectivity (58%) are also issues.

The research suggests that greater communication around technology adoption will help overcome these barriers, with half agreeing that regular feedback sessions (50%), evidence of benefits (51%) and having a clear roadmap (55%) will improve technology adoption and enhance their own role. There are also strong calls for more co-creation during the development of solutions. 79% cite the benefits of PPI groups (patient, public involvement) as part of any technology design or deployment project within the NHS.

Staff are the enablers, and tech can help boost recruitment

The study shows that healthcare professionals view technology as having an important role to play in addressing one of the biggest issues facing the NHS today: staff shortages. 74% want their organisation to invest more in new technological solutions and software to help attract new staff, and 83% think it can help to attract a younger workforce from digitally native generations.

Despite recognising the benefits digital technology can bring for healthcare services, the study also shines a light on some of the challenges to progress. The current standard of technology remains a source of stress for nearly half (49%) of NHS staff. They are under considerable pressure, and staffing levels and burnout (42%) are seen as the biggest barriers (outside of funding) to digital transformation. This is followed by cultural resistance to change (37%) and workforce availability and capability (37%). 75% feel that team capacity (e.g. lack of relevant skills and / or resources) is slowing innovation.

Evolving infrastructure through collaboration

While healthcare professionals say the approach to technology adoption needs to evolve, so too does the infrastructure required to support the latest innovation. However, fully connected, interoperable systems, which enable staff to seamlessly connect to apps and solutions are seemingly a little way off.

Nearly all respondents (98%) agree that network, Wi-Fi infrastructure and mobile technology are critical to future innovations in the delivery of healthcare, but 58% suffer from building not-spots (areas that receive little or no connectivity) and 51% have to switch between devices to carry out tasks. Consequently, 59% cite difficulties implementing new technology with existing systems and almost one in four (24%) have reverted to older processes due to connectivity issues.

Professor Sultan Mahmud, BT’s Director of Healthcare, said: “It’s clear from this research that NHS staff have a real belief in technology and its potential for delivering greater healthcare for everyone. However, it’s also clear that we need to work together to evolve the approach to adoption and infrastructure. This is about making sure technology is a driver: easing staff stresses, supporting recruitment, unlocking digital transformation, and delivering better patient outcomes. The NHS needs partners that will stand alongside it shoulder-to-shoulder, and BT is proud to be on that journey.”

To support NHS Trusts with this ongoing challenge, BT has launched its Vanguard Programme. The ‘clinically led, digitally enabled’ programme sees BT partner with NHS Trusts to co-create technology that is specifically developed for the challenges healthcare providers face. The programme focuses on the needs of patients, clinical staff, administrators, or the many others who are critical to delivering care.

Dr Tim Ringrose, President, Digital Health, Royal Society of Medicine, added: “The NHS finds itself under immense pressure and it needs partners that are able to really listen and co-create solutions that have a positive impact on workloads and patient experience. We can all see the potential technology can have, but right now it’s not always deployed in the right ways. Our mission is to share healthcare learning and support innovation, and the future of our healthcare system is dependent on working with partners that have similar commitments.”

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