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The X factor: the early impact of NHSX

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Oli Hudson, of Wilmington Healthcare, explores the impact of NHSX, the NHS’s new joint organisation for digital, data and technology.

NHSX which is designed to drive digital transformation within NHS health and social care, enabling patients and staff to benefit from the latest digital systems and technology, was officially launched in July.

NHSX, which unites teams from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England (NHSE) and NHS Improvement (NHSI), will help to deliver key aspects of the Long-term Plan.

These include population health strategies, which will necessitate the collection and analysis of in-depth population data, to help the NHS better understand local health and social care needs, and plan and budget accordingly.

Data sharing

Sharing NHS patient data with industry to help improve care has been the subject of much controversy in recent years. However, in July, it was announced that NHSX had assumed new controls in this area.

The details were revealed in guidance from DHSC, which said that NHSX would become “a national centre for expertise” to provide advice to the NHS on sharing patient data. The guidance also reiterated the DHSC’s ban on trusts striking their own exclusive deals.

Other areas that NHSX will be involved in will include supporting the uptake of digital initiatives such as Local Health and Care Records (LHCRs), which will be informed by the work of the five Local Health and Care Record Exemplars (LHCRE) that were announced by NHS England last year.

These joined up patient records have significant implications for the MedTech industry since they will integrate information provided by devices and equipment, ranging from ultrasound scanners to pacemakers, with a patient’s full health and social care history.

Driving innovation

Sharing patient data at an earlier stage, particularly between primary and secondary care, is key to ensuring that innovations are effective and delivering good outcomes. In line with this, NHSX will support organisations such as the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) which was set up last year to help the NHS fast-track innovative drugs, devices, diagnostics and digital products. Since its inception, the AAC has already selected and supported 12 ‘rapid uptake products’ to increase their use within the NHS. These include a cost-saving device called Urolift for lower urinary tract symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia.

NHSX will also assist Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) which are playing a central role in the AAC by supporting the local uptake of technologies and helping to identify the next generation of innovations that can be considered for future adoption by the AAC.

NHSX’s work in this area will be particularly valuable for innovative MedTech devices that are designed for use on small cohorts of patients and involve new surgical techniques. In the past, it has been notoriously difficult to generate a robust evidence base for these kinds of products, particularly when patient data has not been joined-up.

However, NHSX aims to ensure that, for example, positive patient outcomes for a MedTech device used in secondary care can be viewed seamlessly alongside any complications that may have arisen at a later stage and been managed in primary care.

These joined up patient records will enable more comprehensive datasets and assist the aims of both the AAC and AHSNs. They are good news for MedTech companies, since they will enable them to demonstrate positive outcomes at scale across whole care pathways. This is of paramount importance for proving the value of a product, particularly if it is more expensive than its competitors.

NHSX will also work with the AAC in jointly leading the new National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab, which was recently announced by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock. AI will support clinical decision-making on surgical pathways since it will enable clinicians to better determine what type of surgery to perform for particular patients and the risks associated with it.

Elsewhere, NHSX is also working with NHSE on the procurement of interoperable IT systems, which are essential for delivering integrated care. In August, NHSX and NHSE published a list of accredited suppliers of electronic patient record solutions, designed “to give purchasers in the NHS more confidence in their route to digitisation”.

Conclusion

Although NHSX is a new initiative and its work has only just begun, it is already instigating significant changes to help the NHS realise its digital transformation goals, particularly with regards to data.

This has huge implications for the MedTech industry since it will enable companies to build a solid evidence base to demonstrate the value of their products across the whole care pathway for specific cohorts of patients. This will be crucial in helping them to differentiate their products in a highly competitive market.