• Beverley Bryant backs plans to switch funding priorities and push back digital deadline to 2023
  • Leading trusts will bring others with them, Ms Bryant says
  • NHS Digital director sets out priorities including plans to parachute 100 “business change” staff to NHS organisations
  • Pledges to make NHS Digital “relevant” and “more responsive”

EXCLUSIVE: Jeremy Hunt’s new policy to prioritise more digitally mature hospitals for central funding instead of less technologically developed trusts as previously planned has been backed by a senior figure at NHS Digital.

The proposals announced by the health secretary earlier this month, which involve around 30 digitally mature trusts receiving up to £10m (see box below), are a significant shift from a previous policy to “prioritise… health economies with the most still left to do”.

Beverley Bryant

Beverley Bryant

Beverley Bryant wants the front line to be ‘pleased with the work that we are doing’

NHS Digital’s new head of digital technology, Beverley Bryant, told HSJ the move, based on Professor Robert Wachter’s Making IT Work review, was “right” – when coupled with the review’s key recommendation to push back the timetable for digitising hospitals to 2023, as well as other policy developments.

Ms Bryant also used her first interview since moving from NHS England in June to outline plans to send 100 “business change” specialists out to local NHS organisations, and pledged to make NHS Digital “relevant” and “more responsive”.

On the Wachter review, Ms Bryant said: “[In] the work I had been leading last year [at NHS England] we had wanted to prioritise investment in those health economies with the most work still left to do…

“[But] what Wachter’s intervention has been, and I think it’s right, is [to say] ‘don’t invest in places at the bottom of the curve until they have the right clinical leadership in place… Before you do the big investment in the technology… prepare them for the transformation’.”

Asked how struggling trusts would be supported to get themselves in a position to receive some of the £1.3bn of central technology funding, Ms Bryant said this would be achieved by “crucial join up” between sustainability and transformation plans and the digital exemplar trust programme.

“Before Wachter, and without STPs, any investment in Salford Royal or University Bristol Hospital would not help Pennine Acute or North Bristol. But by investing money in those exemplar areas, I am confident part of their responsibility will be to ensure the areas in their patch like, Pennine Acute and North Bristol, embrace the digital challenge,” she said.

Ms Bryant acknowledged digitally struggling trusts in areas which did not have exemplar organisations in their patch would also need support. She said she “believed NHS England was addressing this”.

Setting out her priorities, she said she wanted to make NHS Digital “more responsive” and “relevant”, so local organisations will say “we could not have achieved [key technology projects] without them”.

Asked about the organisation’s current performance, she said: “There’s a lot more good work going on [here] than they have communicated. There are pockets of brilliance… But it’s been patchy.

“Some of our data services areas… have not prioritised NHS and local authority needs and we now wish to resolve that.”

On what a fair measure of success would be, she said: “When you speak to people on the front line, they will have heard of us, know what we do and if they’re working with us they will be pleased with the work that we are doing.”

Ms Bryant said she was in the early stages of drawing up plans to redeploy around 100 business change staff from central projects to local organisations from April, to help support their digital deployments.

She said she wanted a scenario where digital transformation was a collaborative process, rather than local organisations feeling initiatives were being foisted on them by central diktats.

“We are going to redeploy [staff to help the front line] so that we’re not doing it to them, we’re doing it with them,” she said.

Digital “exemplars” programme

Twelve trusts will receive up to £10m to help them become “global exemplars” in digital technology:

  • City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust
  • Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust
  • Salford Royal Hospitals Trust
  • Wirral University Teaching Hospital FT
  • University Hospitals Birmingham FT
  • Luton and Dunstable University Hospital Trust
  • West Suffolk FT
  • Royal Free London FT
  • Oxford University Hospitals FT
  • Taunton and Somerset FT
  • University Hospitals Bristol FT
  • University Hospitals Southampton FT

The 12 were chosen from a shortlist of 26 trusts compiled by NHS England in August. Further funding of up to £5m each will be available for 20 other trusts to act as “national exemplars” and improve the use of digital technology throughout their organisation

Not prioritising cash for tech laggards is 'right'