31 July 2023 Articles

Opinion – techUK recently published their UK tech plan: How the next Government can use technology to build a better Britain.



As techUK conducted an extensive consultation exercise with a range of stakeholders to develop the sector’s views on how the UK government can utilise technology to create a better Britain for people, society, the economy and the planet, it’s useful to consider the relationship with the NHS digitisation strategy.

This technology plan aims to inform digital regulation, economic reform and public service reform. It is immediately intertwined with Healthtech as one of the most high profile government challenges that remains in desperate needs of the “more with less” benefits that digital transformation can underpin.

The key messages are contextualised within an anticipated UK landscape of economy-wide challenges such as a lack of business investment and stagnant productivity growth, exacerbated by the need to combat climate change.

The techUK plan’s ambition aligns with the sentiments of the NHS “What Good Looks Like” frameworks, developing foundation practices that prepare for the enormous opportunity of increasing pace and power of technological innovation. The plan is a “call to action” for government departments to be supported in “grasping the nettle” now, so as to be able to embrace emergent technologies such as AI, already the focus of intense development activity in health, and more importantly, Quantum Computing, a game changer for AI and other real-time use-cases. Whilst the foundations to assure such future technologies are a primary focus of this publication, they are equally applicable to the optimisation of existing Healthtech technologies and capabilities including Electronic Patient Records, Electronic Document Management Solutions and Diagnostics solutions.

Negative commentaries can be quite damaging to the digital transformation of the NHS, weakening the perceptions of those looking inwards, yet this publication can be seen as confirmation that the NHS technology vision is already moving in the right direction, aligned on the strategic technology path of the wider UK economy. This is, in a large part, confirmation of the strong collaborative strategic work at NHSE and NHSX before them, emanating via vehicles such as the “What Good Looks Like” framework which has recently been replicated for the Social Care domain. We must now ensure live Healthtech investments demonstrate their value, thus avoiding the divergence of these scarce resources elsewhere as alternative sector opportunities pull on them.


To truly benefit from this publication, our most forward looking Healthtech initiatives, and especially those in common with non-healthcare sectors, will require a common lens and language to seamlessly convey the positive progress messages to the top of the government funding decision tree.

Within the plan’s eighteen summarised opportunities we can tease out the healthcare themes.

There is an explicit statement regarding the Digital Transformation that the NHS and Social Care system requires, with its sights set on better onboarding of technologies that will cut waiting times, save staff hours and support more preventative treatment. This is clearly food and drink to those of us in the Healthtech business, but the challenges of providing the necessary complex, safe and reliable infrastructure are a continuing source of frustration, not least due to the nuances of the public sector funding allocations.

Improving access for all in a secure and trusted manner, with a focus upon improving inclusivity, all the while aiding cost reductions, plays straight into the work to build upon the healthcare COVID-19 initiatives of late. Expanding patient portal initiatives and making the NHS App a springboard for innovation, as is the goal, will play a crucial role in helping citizens take control of their health and care. It is clear that the NHS and its partners will rely upon wider social-economic initiatives to facilitate access for all, e.g. the work of our mobile providers to provide ubiquitous 4G networks, social data tariffs and accessible devices. This of course means useability of the software must be guaranteed on such devices.

The challenge of recruiting thousands of digitally skilled personnel into the NHS is mirrored across all sectors and amplifies the issue. The plan looks to a more flexible apprenticeship Levy, an Employment Bill, and an online Digital Skills Toolkit to help individuals and employers identify accredited courses to boost digital skills. All meaningful initiatives, but not short term fixes. As with many challenges in the NHS, short, medium and long term objectives need to be developed to build confidence and assurances.

An approach that gradually breaks out of the status quo (i.e. creates a newly skilled & sticky workforce environment) will have a higher chance of success, and details such as the whole reward picture of working in the public sector are disclosed to the job market (i.e. a crude comparator of salary will never win hearts and minds). Similarly, aligning skills frameworks across the private and public sector, such as the Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) framework (surprisingly absent within the recently published NHS workforce plan), the SFIA framework (that defines the skills and competencies required by professionals who design, develop, implement, manage and protect the data and technology), and gradually moving to a chartership model for more senior positions to value digital engineering, will pay better dividends.

A number of opportunity focus upon business growth challenges, from supporting start-ups to scaling and supporting foreign entrants to the UK market. Its pleasing to reflect upon the work of Academic Science networks and other organisations in this space, and interesting to understand that healthcare is not alone in many of the challenges being faced. Yet we still learn of SMEs in the UK and abroad whom face barriers to entry and we await the reformed procurement processes to see if they, at last, bear fruit.

Open data (i.e. not open source coding) features in the plan and highlights the UK’s global standing. A common sentiment within healthcare circles, irrespective of any quoted position on a UN E-Government Index, is that embracing open data to the extent proposed via the national strategies lacks marketplace assurances bar a small number of applications. Moving to a true open data architecture is a significant undertaking for purchaser and supplier, requiring new commercial models, that must be driven through the supply chain with the correct levers applied and rewards dangled by the procuring authorities. The reality maybe re-engineered product commercial models that mitigate the loss of some service offerings.

We cannot ignore the challenge that this vision strikes fear into many system manufacturers whom may see revenue opportunities evaporate before their eyes. The Health & Social Care “What Good Looks Like” framework cites the Technology Code of Practice which itself calls for open standards to be pursued, aligning to this opportunity, but the execution is a slow burn and the method, i.e. in-house or supply chain, will undoubtedly continue for sometime yet and the usual EPR suppliers will continue to secure business with existing product sets to support the pursuit of government digitisation targets.

A thriving digital and AI ethics ecosystem with suitable governance and regulation chimes with the ongoing work of NHS England in response to the huge amount of development underway within and external to the NHS. We must assume the NHS will be well represented on any emerging tech taskforces under the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, to seek to knowledge share to the advantage of all sectors. Failure to engage could eventually lead to some serious delays in deployment of game changing innovations as boundaries are pushed.

The final area of concern is the green agenda. The plan seeks to establish a database of green tech investment prospects, enhanced recycling strategies and the empowerment of individuals and businesses to better understand and improve their own environmental footprint via planning rules and common household technologies. The NHS is obliged to demonstrate compliance with this agenda. As Healthtech continues its journey to public cloud first infrastructure, to again meet the expectations of the “What Good Looks Like” guidance, the proliferation of home based diagnostics in response to virtual wards and new community and mental health initiatives calls for a robust process to offset the resulting environmental impacts. Effective execution is paramount and starts with an honest and comprehensive appraisal of the environmental aspects when justifying each investment. Government guidance exists for robust appraisals but gathering meaningful data to inform the models for complex environments is a tough task.

The threads running through the techUK plan clearly resonate strongly with the NHS digitisation agenda and bode well for supporting its aims. The key, unsurprisingly, is for the NHS to be involved in the government responses to these calls to action.

This narrative keeps Apira abreast of the overarching Healthcare landscape.

Apira has a strong portfolio of supporting clients through all stages of the system and infrastructure lifecycle with particular expertise in the arenas of Electronic Patient Records including strategy, EPMA and Maternity, Diagnostics Solutions and Electronic Document Management. Apira prides itself on maintaining a product agnostic approach to ensure clients achieve the most effective outcome.

Our expertise in Business Cases, implementation and optimisation position us to support our NHS customers as they seek to benefit from the government influence of collaboration organisations such as techUK.

For more information, the plan can be read here

Author: Phill James

Having worked in systems engineering delivery and management roles within the private sector for the early part of his career, Phill joined the NHS in 2004, overseeing the implementation of technology solutions within a large ambulance Trust. He subsequently moved into the acute sector, and has undertaken roles such as Chief Information Officer, a CIO position on the board of Warrington & Halton Hospitals and Director Of Digital responsibilities to the Cheshire & Merseyside ICS, namely the Sustainability Transformation Partnership.

Just prior to joining Apira, Phill brought his 19 year NHS technology career to a close as an EPR Programme Director across two Cheshire Trusts, securing the national approval of the Full Business Case, the first such NHSEI Frontline Digitisation case.