HSJ’s round-up of the day’s must read stories

The state of the digital revolution

On Tuesday, HSJ revealed the results of the new NHS England assessment of “digital maturity” across the NHS, which laid bare significant variation among providers.

Experts told us that the new data painted the clearest picture yet of how well the provider sector is using technology, but warned about the data’s limitations because it is based on self-assessment.

The data from 239 organisations will be used alongside the “local digital roadmaps” (which NHS England director of digital technology Beverley Bryant told HSJ will be “subsumed” into STPs) to monitor progress against the NHS’s target to be paperless at the point of care by 2020.

Crucially, the index will also be used alongside the roadmaps to make decisions about which organisations to give a share of around £1.3bn of technology funding (more of which below).

HSJ analysed the data to show all trusts’ overall digital maturity based on the three areas NHS England is assessing – readiness, capability and enabling infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Ms Bryant told us that £500m of the £1.8bn of funding earmarked for achieving the paperless target will go on contracts setup under the national programme for IT.

So this leaves £1.3bn of new, unallocated money for tech projects, with £119m of capital funding available to trusts this year.

Crisis talk

“It is reasonable to talk of a ‘crisis’ in general practice but it is a crisis of an out-of-date model rather than a lack of resources,” Andrew Haldenby and Alex Hitchcock of the Reform think thank argue on hsj.co.uk.

Their main criticism of the government’s general practice policy is the aim to recruit and train 5,000 new GPs “is a sticking plaster when much deeper change is needed”.

First, they say multidisciplinary teams should be the future of the primary care workforce, so the target should be scrapped. Instead, policymakers’ focus “should be structural change rather than a recruitment target that is misguided in itself and unlikely to be achieved”.

Other obstacles to overcome include the small size of most practices, “inadequate” access for patients, and “Stone Age” technology which means only 7 per cent of people have booked appointments online, according to their research.

However, Andrew and Alex praise super practices such as Lakeside, and others such as Taurus Healthcare, for transcending these problems and delivering genuinely new models of care.

Most bold of all, the authors say that the commissioning responsibilities “fragmented” among CCGs, local authorities and other bodies “should be rationalised within a smaller set of bodies”.

They acknowledge top-down reorganisation won’t appeal to a lot of people – “but the major flaws in the structure of commissioning have to be tackled”.

Next steps for NECS

Plans are being drawn up to turn North East Commissioning Support into a company owned by its customer CCGs.

Work is under way on legal requirements, due diligence, organisational and workforce issues to make NECS independent of NHS England.

Commissioning support units have been hosted by NHS England since they were set up in 2013 and were due to become independent by the end of 2016 – though HSJ revealed earlier this year that this deadline could be ditched.

While all CSUs were intended to become autonomous, NECS would be the first to become a “Teckal” company – a legally separate organisation that public authorities can pass work on to without going to competitive tender. Public authorities must exert the same control over them as departments; the companies need to carry out the essential part of their work for their owners; and there can be no direct private sector ownership.