Health strategy seeks to connect and empower people in the age of digital care

NHS backlogs and capacity are just some of the issues that the Scottish Government’s new digital health and care strategy promises to tackle. It comes as the health service gears up for a challenging winter.

In a bid to build on the “rapid advances” that have been made during Covid, the strategy sets out how digital can help the “recovery and remobilisation” of the NHS.

It also describes how embedding more technology-led approaches will enhance and enable Scots’ access not only to services, but to their health and care data as well.

The plan builds on the Programme for Government, which pledged to “scale up” digital and offer flexible and innovative access to care.

The legislative document, unveiled by the First Minister in September, promises to deliver a “safe and secure digital app” by the end of this parliament that will support Scots to access health information and services directly.

It also reveals plans to develop a digital prescription service, which should “free up” capacity for healthcare professionals and make it easier for patients to access their medicines quickly and safely.

These aims are echoed in the recent £1bn NHS recovery plan, which also outlines key actions to help address backlogs and increase capacity by “at least” 10 per cent.

However, the new digital health plan emphasises that people will “not be forced” to use a digital service if it is “not right for them”. Instead, digital and non-digital options will be offered in parallel.

A national decision-making board has now been established to take the route map “from strategy to delivery”.

Strategy for a healthy future

The 33-page digital health and care strategy, co-authored by the Scottish Government and Cosla, the body representing Scotland’s 32 councils, outlines three key aims.

  • Citizens have access to, and greater control over, their own health and care data – as well as access to the digital information, tools and services they need to help maintain and improve their health and wellbeing.
  • Health and care services are built on people-centred, safe, secure and ethical digital foundations which allow staff to record, access and share relevant information across the health and care system, and feel confident in their use of digital technology, in order to improve the delivery of care.
  • Health and care planners, researchers and innovators have secure access to the data they need to increase the efficiency of health and care systems, and develop new and improved ways of working.

To achieve these aims, the government will focus on six priority areas.

Digital access: People have flexible digital access to information, their own data and services which
support their health and wellbeing, wherever they are.

To improve digital access, the government will continue to grow the use of its Near Me video consulting platform. It will also work to ensure patients have full access to free wifi.

Digital services: Digital options are increasingly available as a choice for people accessing services and staff delivering them.

To enhance digital services, the government will develop an interactive “Front Door”, allowing users to enter a range of different services across health and care, both digital and physical.

Digital foundations: The infrastructure, systems, regulation, standards and governance are in place to ensure robust and secure delivery.

The government has promised to conduct digital maturity exercises across its health and care delivery landscape every two years, as well as further embed Office 365 across the system.

Digital skills and leadership: Digital skills are seen as core for the workforce in the health and care sector.

The government will invest in information governance and cyber skills across its entire workforce. It will also work with universities and colleges to ensure curricula prepare students for a technology enabled health and care environment.

Digital futures: Wellbeing and the economy benefit with Scotland at the heart of digital innovation and development.

The government will provide a permanent safe testing environment for new technologies and work with organisations including the 5G Centre and Centre for Cyber Resilience to “realise the potential” of digital health and care.

Data-driven services and insight: Data is harnessed to the benefit of citizens, services and innovation. Scotland’s first Data Strategy for Health and Social Care will be developed.

It will include detailed consideration of how to increase citizens’ trust and transparency in data sharing and how to unlock the value of health and care data.