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£1bn NHS recovery plan – what’s in store for digital?
Nicola Sturgeon saw the technology which enables patients to have a video consultation with medical professionals from their own home. Supplied/Scottish Government via Flikr
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£1bn NHS recovery plan – what’s in store for digital? 

Following a tech transformation across society over the past 18 months – the SNP Government has put digital at the heart of its plan for the recovery of NHS Scotland from Covid-19.

The new route map, which comes with a commitment to invest £1 billion in the development of the health service over the next five years, outlines key actions to help address backlogs and increase capacity by “at least” 10 per cent.

It promises to continue to grow the use of ‘NHS Near Me‘ with £3.4 million a year. Prior to the pandemic usage of NHS Near Me was limited to around 1,200 consultations per month, but with the rapid scale up due to the pandemic this now stands at 12,000 per week.

This is accompanied by a pledge to invest in developing new digital solutions such as ePrescribing and eDispensing to make the prescribing process paperless, which will “free up” capacity for healthcare professionals so that they can see more patients. It will also make it easier for patients to access their medicines quickly and safely.

Additionally, the government have committed to consulting and engaging with the public to develop a “safe and secure” digital app that will support people to access information and services directly, self-manage, and contribute to their own health and care information.

The government is also investing over £20m additional funding in NHS 24 to ensure call handling times are “appropriate”.

And following feedback which suggests many mental health patients prefer the convenience of digital access to treatment, plans to invest in virtual service capacity are outlined.

Over the next year, the government will begin work on an expanded ‘digital mental health programme’, building on the “substantial progress” already made.

This will include continued scaling up of new digital treatments and therapies, ensuring these are also accessible in rural areas, increasing the ability to self-refer to some computerised cognitive behaviour therapy treatments and establishing a Mental Health Innovation Hub to encourage the development and evaluation of technologies focused on the identified needs of the population.

Over the course of the pandemic, there was a “dramatic expansion” in the use of Near Me online video health consultations and video enabled therapy. Over 6,300 video therapy consultations per week were conducted through Near Me in the last 12 months, compared with 700 prior to the pandemic.

The plan points to work on accelerating the adoption of new technologies that support improved access to healthcare, such as cytosponge, colon capsule endoscopy, and the use of artificial intelligence.

Finally, it says the government will encourage innovation to support new ways of working in the NHS.

The document acknowledges the public health crisis has played a significant role in shifting attitudes towards digital health services.

It reads: “The increase in digital – planned for before the pandemic, and significantly accelerated as part of our response to the pandemic – means the time is now right to ensure that Digital is always available as a choice for people accessing services and staff delivering them.

“This will allow more people to manage their condition at home, to be able to carry out pre and post-operative assessments remotely, and to continue to manage their recovery from home.”

More detail on “how this will be delivered” will be released in the government’s forthcoming ‘digital health & care strategy’.

Other actions in the plan include providing £8m to support the mental health and wellbeing of the health and care workforce, £400m to national treatment centres, 25 per cent increase in funding for primary care and £29m to target diagnostic backlogs.

First Minster Nicola Sturgeon said: “This plan will drive the recovery of our NHS, not just to its pre-pandemic level but beyond. As we maintain our resilience against Covid-19 and other pressures, the Scottish Government is providing targeted investment to increase capacity, reform the system and ultimately get everyone the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

“Tackling the backlog of care is essential and will be a priority. But we want to go further than that and deliver an NHS that is innovative, sustainable and stronger than ever before.”

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