NHS Scotland CEO: ‘Digital approaches are vital to our recovery’
The last two years have been the most challenging that the NHS in Scotland has ever lived through.
I am enormously proud of the way in which staff across our health and care service have responded to the demands placed on them and the way in which we have innovated to support the maintenance of essential services.
The measures we had to take to address the Covid-19 pandemic meant that some health and care services had to be suspended or reduced in scope and scale.
As a result, there are many people who are waiting longer for the care they need.
Addressing this backlog of care, while continuing to meet the ongoing urgent health and care needs of the country, and maintaining our pandemic response, is the central aim of the NHS Recovery Plan.
And, although we are focused on recovering services and reducing the backlog for treatment; all of this work is set within the wider desire to shape and deliver sustainable and resilient services and ways of working; and to provide preventative and proactive services to improve the health and wellbeing of the population.
Our vision is that people are able to access support to maintain their wellbeing, and to manage ill health as close to their home as possible.
It is centred around an appreciation that people – and not hospitals – need to be at the heart of how we work together to plan health services for the future.
It reflects the importance of addressing the determinants of ill health and health inequalities, as well as transforming care in the home and in local communities.
Hospitals are and will remain important elements of our health and care system – but the emphasis has to be on only providing care in the hospital setting where clinically necessary.
Innovation and digital technologies will be key enablers of this approach. Our response to the pandemic has demonstrated our ability to introduce innovation and new digital systems at pace.
It has also shown that professionals and patients can quickly switch to new technology enabled ways of working whilst maintaining outcomes.
This includes remote working and video consultations, but also large scale diagnostics delivered in new ways, like Covid-19 testing at home, and opening up access for people to their own health data through the Covid Status service.
Scotland’s refreshed Digital Health and Care Strategy published in October 2021, integrates learning from our response to Covid-19 and from the accelerated pace of digital transformation that has taken place as a result of the pandemic.
Just as digital approaches were central to our pandemic response, they will be vital to our recovery agenda, as outlined in both the strategy and the NHS Recovery Plan.
Self-management, prevention and early intervention are key to keeping people out of hospital.
Our Remote Health Pathways programme, recently rebranded as Connect Me, supports people with long-term health conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and, more recently, long-Covid.
We continue to develop other programmes of work such as Hospital at Home and community respiratory pathways to provide additional capacity within health services to support the development of a virtual ward concept.
We recognise the impact the pandemic has had on people’s mental health and the growing demand for mental health services.
We are increasing the range of digital treatments and therapies, including enhancing the ability to self-refer to various treatments.
We are also committed to establishing a Digital Mental Health Cluster to encourage the development and evaluation of digital technologies focused on meeting the mental health needs of people in Scotland.
Despite considerable challenges these last few years, we have shown that we can deliver at pace and at scale, and can do so effectively if we work together, including with industry.
Above all though we have learnt that it is people that must drive digital transformation, they are the heart of what we do.