• NHSX working towards piloting new technology programme
  • Small number of trusts will be selected for piloting in 2020-21
  • Tech chiefs exploring how to measure trusts’ digital maturity

A small number of trusts will pilot Matt Hancock’s new plan for improving technology in the NHS, HSJ has learned.

According to sources close to the process, NHSX is expected to roll out an early phase of the “digital aspirant” programme near the start of the next financial year to a handful of trusts, which will inform the programme’s development and implementation.

The digital aspirant programme, first announced by Mr Hancock in December, aims to improve the digital maturity of NHS trusts. It is not yet known exactly how many trusts will pilot the programme, how they will be selected and when they will receive funding.

Prior to this, the focus for national development of trusts’ IT systems was the “global digital exemplar” programme, in which 16 trusts were given millions of pounds in funding to use technology to transform their services and subsequently create blueprints from which other trusts could learn.

But HSJ understands NHSX wants the digital aspirant programme to provide a steady stream of tech funding to trusts based on a multiyear capital settlement it is hoped will be provided by government later this year, probably at a comprehensive spending review in the autumn.

One senior source said they expected trusts to receive less than GDE trusts, but “not dramatically less”.

In return for funding, NHSX will expect commitments from trusts enrolled in the programme, which could include things like appointing a chief information officer or chief clinical information officer on the board or working to standards which NHSX plans to publish later this year.

However, HSJ understands NHSX — set up by Mr Hancock last year — wants to try to get assurance trusts spend the money on the right things but without onerous governance.

NHSX is also understood to be looking at how trusts’ digital maturity should be measured, with tech chiefs believed to have acknowledged that some assessments in the past have been manipulated to present a distorted or inaccurate picture.

Currently, one of the most used methods is the NHS digital maturity assessment, but this is based on trusts’ own judgements.

Trusts can also obtain tech standards drawn up by American not-for-profit company Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, but HSJ understands NHSX sees this assessment as not focused enough on clinical outcomes.

The unit is also mulling over introducing minimum levels of tech spending across NHS trusts, as stated in the planning guidance for 2020-21.

NHSX was approached for comment.