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

A tech plan - of sorts

2020 marks the first full year of NHSX’s existence, and everyone in NHS tech land is watching closely to see what the organisation has got up its sleeve.

In January, it emerged the tech unit would lead the work to distribute £40m of funding to improve staff login systems, while the NHS England planning guidance also set out some early priorities for the organisation.

On Tuesday, HSJ revealed NHSX will also select a group of trusts to pilot Matt Hancock’s new and not at all vague “digital aspirant” programme. This is the first detail to be revealed after a couple of months’ silence following the scheme’s initial announcement — and the assumed and as yet unexplained downgrading/scraping of its predecessor the global digital exemplar scheme.

The plan, as much as there appears to be one, is for the chosen organisations to be given some funding for technology, and also a set of expectations from NHSX about what should be achieved.

It is hoped this will kick-start a steady flow of trusts receiving tech funding over several years, with the aim of bringing many more organisations up to an acceptable level of digital maturity. It is possible the pilot trusts will receive the money prior to the comprehensive spending review, but to no one’s surprise nothing has been confirmed yet.

Precisely what NHSX will expect in return from the pilot trusts is also not yet known, though adhering to certain tech standards and having a head of tech on the board are examples of possible requirements.

Ready but waiting

Barely a week goes past without a story highlighting how mental health services are failing young people. Despite many years of promises from politicians, children and adolescent mental health services are still struggling to see users within a reasonable time.

Sometimes that delay has consequences. In Kent and Medway, 76 patients, who had all waited longer than the 18-week target time for treatment, were found to be at risk of harm. One patient had to be seen immediately as they were judged to be at “severe” risk.

North East London Foundation Trust — Kent and Medway’s CAMHS provider — has so far carried out 205 harm reviews on long waiters, with around another 600 reviews pending. 

NELFT took over the contract in September 2017, but has struggled with waiting times ever since. HSJ understands that, despite the trust putting on some weekend sessions to try to reduce the backlog, it is still unlikely to meet the 18-week target until October this year. Those waiting for neurodevelopmental and learning disability services are also facing long waits. 

So far, commissioners and local councillors have shown understanding about the problems NELFT has faced. But HSJ understands patience is wearing thin and there is now pressure on Kent County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee to examine the situation.