The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

Tech vision

NHSX has unveiled its technology vision for health and social care, pledging to do something about “hopelessly old laptops and clunky hardware”, among other things.

The digital unit has admitted the vision of a tech-driven NHS is “impossibly distant” for many staff and patients and, while there is plenty of innovation happening, “scaling is too difficult”.

The “tech plan”, published by the agency this week for consultation, aims to tackle this. It outlines five clear priorities and several “enablers”, which will help deliver the ambitions.

It also honestly describes where the NHS is falling short in technology and sheds more light on the role of NHSX and projects it is involved in, which hasn’t always been completely clear.

The commitments may be met with scepticism from clinicians, who regularly air frustrations over the length of time it takes them to log into dated hospital IT systems.

However, the recognition of the current challenges and the plans to tackle them is a positive step in the right direction for digital transformation in the NHS.

The document said: “The future of NHS and social care depends on getting the technology right. The only way the NHS can stay true to its founding principles in a world of rising demand, rising costs and expectations is to use technology to transform itself.

“If we can get this right, there is huge potential to improve outcomes, the experience of patients, people in care, and staff, and productivity.”

A win for the Whittington

Whittington Health Trust has long seen its aging estate as a bar to improving performance. Back in 2016, it decided it wanted a strategic estates partnership to deal with this issue. On 2 June 2017, the trust said estates company Ryhurst was its preferred bidder for a £300m contract to manage and support its long-term estates plans.

Just 12 days later, the Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people. The trust paused its bidding process as one of Ryhurst’s sister companies in the Rydon construction group — Rydon Maintenance Ltd —  came under scrutiny for its part in renovating the tower block.

By November that year, the deal seemed to be back on, with the trust writing to the firm saying it “confirms the acceptance of your offer”. But, less than a year later in June 2018, the Whittington announced it was abandoning the deal. 

Ryhurst took the trust to court, claiming the provider had bailed out of the contract because it was under mounting pressure from local campaigners, MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, the Mayor of London, and NHS Improvement. 

These powerful political currents were swirling around the trust board, causing it to ditch the deal because of the toxic link to Grenfell — or so the company claimed in its submissions to the High Court.

For its part, the trust said that, by 2018, it no longer needed the estates partnership as its financial situation had improved, it was on better terms with its local partners, and it was now in a position to contract directly with different suppliers.

On Friday, a judge decided in favour of the Whittington, stating Ryhurst had “failed to establish that the only real reasons [for abandoning the partnership] were the Grenfell connection and/or the political and public pressure not to contract with Ryhurst”.