The National Health Service (NHS) Education for Scotland has this week announced the launch of its new National Digital Platform, which it says will lay the foundation for a ‘health and social care revolution’.
The platform has been built in collaboration with a number of partners across health and social care and is said to be an open environment, similar to a mobile OS, that allows other developers to build applications and services on it for patients and citizens.
The news of the launch follows the publication of the Scottish Government’s Digital Health and Care Strategy late last year, which set out a vision to ‘improve the care and wellbeing of people in Scotland by making best use of digital technologies in the design and delivery of services’.
National Health Services in the UK are under extreme pressure and facing challenges across a number of areas - some of which include a backlog of treatments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, funding concerns, the cost of living crisis and a shortage of staff (some of which are leaving due to burnout/pay disputes/standards of living).
A quick look at the National Digital Platform’s website and it’s clear that it aims to provide a number of key building blocks to create a digital infrastructure for health and social care in Scotland. There’s a focus on infrastructure, storage, APIs, a common development framework, and blogging to build transparency and trust.
Similarities will inevitably be drawn to GOV.UK and the previous work of the Government Digital Service in Whitehall, which too aims to utilize a ‘platform as a service’ approach to development of government digital services.
Commenting on the launch of the new National Digital Platform (NDP), Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Scottish Government, said:
Within our health and social care system, services are steadily becoming available on digital platforms for those who wish to use them. It is important that these digital platforms work seamlessly together to ensure that people are able to access the right care, at the right place, at the right time.
I welcome the launch of the National Digital Platform’s website which will offer useful information on using digital platforms and how the NDP can bring together multiple services in one place.
NHS Education for Scotland said that digital services will become the first contact with health and care services for many people in the coming years. This will require systems that can talk to each other, store and share information appropriately and effectively - a core aim of the NDP, which is responsible for managing this interaction.
The NDP website is divided into three different target audiences. These include:
Product developers - NDP will provide those delivering technology into Health and Social Care in Scotland access to services and components that ‘make this easier’. The website states that the NDP will improve consistency of access to core digital tools and access to data in the health and care system.
Health and social care staff - NDP will allow better access to health and care data. The website states that with better access to data, staff can make better decisions about care and that the NDP will improve consistency for this stakeholder group too.
The public - individuals will also have better access to their health and social care data via NDP. Some examples of services being made available already, such as repeat prescriptions, booking appointments and accessing information online, the NDP aims to improve access for patients, help them make better decisions, as well as provide flexible services.
Karen Reid, NHS Education for Scotland Chief Executive, said:
This project should have massive benefits for the people of Scotland.
Already there are a handful of services using the Platform, but this is just the start. As an open platform just like you’d get on your phone, we’re making it possible for developers everywhere to come up with innovative apps to help us all.
Ultimately, the Platform will make it simpler to deliver technology that improves the care and wellbeing of people in Scotland.
And we’re grateful to the massive range of stakeholders who have worked closely with us to make this a reality.”
This is still early days but I’m impressed by the clarity of the NDP website, the commitment to transparency and the overall ambition to provide reusable components to allow people to innovate on the platform. We are seeing in England too a wave of commitments to boost data sharing and provide new digital tools. With the pressures facing the NHS in the UK, technology has to be part of the answer. However, this needs to be done sensibly with proper engagement with patients too, particularly when it comes to data sharing. Too often the art of the possible has overtaken the need to bring people on the journey, which has led to less trust in the system. Collaboration, communication and giving patients control is central to a lot of this.