Matt Hancock: NHS needs culture change to prepare for technology advances in health and social care

Posted On: 
1st October 2018

NHS must go through culture change before any major tech advances, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Research by the University of Exeter found two in every five doctors in the south west plan to quit within five years
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The Health Secretary said that the NHS would “definitely” require a culture change before it was ready for any major tech overhaul.

Mr Hancock said that upgrading struggling IT systems had been one of the top demands from healthcare professionals he had met during visits to hospitals and other primary care centres, saying: “I didn’t think when I came into this job that the word that would really get pulses racing with NHS workers would be interoperability.”

Speaking at the Health and Care Forum at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, which ran with the support of The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Health Secretary said that his department had “learnt the lessons of past failures” when it came to large-scale tech projects within the NHS.

“We’ve learnt the lessons of past failures and we’ve seen it work well in other complicated areas of government. So, I understand the history here and I can see why there hasn’t been a push to improve technology - particularly interoperability - across the board from the top for the last few years", he said.

“Because the history of the national programme; £10bn lost, lots of money paid into contracts where nothing was returned, lots of people losing their jobs, and then with the next attempt to go into this phase on the care.data also ended in a serious problem, I understand why people haven’t gotten into it.”

He added: “But the result has been by leaving it to every individual institution we have a whole load of systems that don’t talk to each other, we all know that. This time is different because we understand what makes it work. I personally worked on this in other parts of government.

But the Health Secretary insisted that any new wholesale changes needed proper support from health chiefs.

"The system is ready for it, and ready for a bit of leadership and direction from the top", he said.

"It definitely requires a culture change. The good thing is the are hundreds and probably thousands of people across the system who get this agenda, who have probably seen it work elsewhere, and who really want it to happen and are the champions. I want to empower everyone in the system who gets this and say ‘You are on the right track’.”

He added: “But there is hard management stuff and it is only going to work if it is owned by the CEO and the board and not just the IT department. But the broader culture change is important too and this is happening and I want to encourage it.”

And Mr Hancock gave his strongest hint yet that a new funding solution for the social care sector, funded via an auto-enrolment system could be on the horizon.

"The fact that people don’t know what the care system looks like, they don’t know what eligibilities are and don’t know how the system operates is one of the reasons why last June, during the General Election campaign, when we made some proposals on social care it was very hard to communicate them because people don’t know what the status quo is, let alone what the change that was being proposed was", he said.

But he argued that a lack of knowledge about how social care was provided could be beneficial for pushing through pension-style auto-enrolment reforms.

He said: “You therefore provide a norm and an expectation for people who don’t understand the system and maybe don’t even want to, and this is what is coming as the standard from government, and it has been so successful in pensions because people weren’t enrolling into pensions because you had to go out of your way to enrol into a private pension scheme if you didn't have one provided by your employer. Instead now, it is the norm now. Over 90% of people are opted-in.”

He added: “Until now, people have argued in the social care system that the fact that no one knows what it looks like is a big problem...But at the same time, if we end up in a system where people have that package and have provided for that package preferably over their lifetime so that they spread the cost of it, then it becomes much more automatic, and you use the fact that no one knows how the social care system works to support the policy rather than work against it.

“That is why I think auto-enrolment is such an important thing to look at.”