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Last year, then health and social care secretary Sajid Javid launched the government’s Data Saves Lives strategy to much fanfare amid promises to “revolutionise” the use of data within the NHS.
The strategy contained a series of commitments setting out how the Department of Health and Social Care would enable the NHS to harness data to improve health and care outcomes for patients while driving efficiencies.
Since then, Steve Barclay has had two stints as health secretary either side of Therese Coffey’s ill-fated tenure, but not much progress has been made on the commitments in the strategy.
A total of 79 commitments were made which were supposed to have been achieved by the end of 2022, but analysis from HSJ has found that only around a third of those have been completed.
Among the missed ones are the establishment of an advisory group on data sharing between the NHS and other sectors, the development of national strategies for cloud and cyber security, and the development of a “roadmap” for rolling out secure data environments across the NHS.
Independent data watchdog Nicola Byrne, who was consulted on much of the strategy, said the slow progress is “understandable” given the recent merger of NHS Digital into NHS England and the subsequent loss of headcount. But she urged the government to “take its data commitments seriously” and be more “pragmatic” about what can be delivered and when.
DHSC has insisted that it has made “good progress” on delivering the commitments in the strategy and that “work is continuing”.
Inpatient activity suffers as outpatients focus ramps up
Only seven integrated care systems recorded more inpatient elective activity in the three months to December than in the same period before the pandemic, and sub-covid inpatient levels have now been delivered in every quarter in 2022-23.
This is what our latest analysis of NHS Digital statistics on raw totals of ordinary admissions and day cases, as opposed to completed pathways (clock stops) has uncovered. You can see how your ICS did here.
NHS England did not dispute the findings, but a spokeswoman said: “This analysis does not take into account wider elective activity, including for outpatients, which actually make up around four in five patients on the waiting list.”
Inpatients do comprise a small proportion of the overall list but this of course does not diminish the importance of this cohort, which makes up the bulk of the heavy and more costly end of the work done by trusts.
Focus is certainly intensifying on eliminating the 40,000 patients who have breached 78-week waiters by April, the vast majority of whom will end their pathways in either an outpatient or diagnostic setting.
Correlation does not imply causation. But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the target to “eliminate” 104-week breaches by last July (which NHSE says it “virtually” achieved, although there remain over 1,200 two-year plus breaches on the list) caused trusts to take their eye off the ball on other patient cohorts.
And there remains a risk of a repeat of this as the system zeroes in on its next target in NHSE’s elective recovery plan.
Also on hsj.co.uk today
In The Download, Nick Carding looks in depth at the tech strategy failures mentioned earlier on this page, and in news we report that NHS England staff have taken hundreds of domestic flights for “internal meetings” in the last six years – although a target to reduce carbon emissions from air travel has been achieved.