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Author Pritish Mistry
Categories Adult Social Care, Health inequalities, Technology and Innovation
Resource type Blog
Publishing body The Kings Fund

With a return to basics, is the spring Budget a game changer for NHS technology?

NHS technology and transformation to drive productivity improvements and support the NHS Long-term Workforce Plan. The money is earmarked to be provided over a three-year period, starting from April 2025. This funding and focus on technology is welcome and much needed, especially considering that the government’s progress on digital transformation was rated as inadequate in 2023.

The key question though is whether this funding, and the associated commitments, will radically transform the NHS’s digital performance and translate into improvements in patient experience and outcomes. The funding may seem generous, but it is also spread thin, there are many unknowns, and some long-standing challenges remain unaddressed.

What is the intended use of the funding?

A large proportion of the funding – £2 billion – is allocated towards improving fragmented and outdated IT systems across the NHS. In a system where 8% of GP time is lost to IT issues, nurses have heavy laptops that lack sufficient battery life, and 22% of doctors say their IT systems are not fit for purpose, this investment and focus is much needed. It is easy to see how fixing these basics can improve productivity and use of technology. But to do this, the £2 billion needs to cover both the basics – such as well-functioning computers, a shift to the cloud, and good internet connectivity – as well as stretch to other uses, such as upgrading approximately 10% of MRI scanners to incorporate AI, and digitising transfers of care. In 2022, £2 billion was allocated to roll out electronic patient records alone, so it is highly possible that getting the basic NHS IT modernised and AI-ready will cost much more

£1 billion of the funding is allocated for staff-facing technology. This funding is intended to accelerate the use of the federated data platform and potentially improve theatre utilisation. There is also a commitment to pilot AI to automate back-office functions – such as writing letters and clinical note taking. If implemented successfully, this application of AI has the potential to reduce administrative workload for staff, delivering on the aspiration of the Topol Review, releasing time for clinicians to provide care.

The remainder of the Budget funding is allocated to several tools and initiatives, for example to improve flexible working for staff through the digital staff passport, enhance the digital experience for patients, and enable digital services to support preventive health care.