NHS England and NHS Digital have today legally merged in the first step towards creating a new, single organisation to lead the NHS in England to deliver high-quality services for all.
The move brings the NHS’ national data and technology expertise into one organisation, creating a closer link between the collection and analysis of data to help drive improvement to patient outcomes.
The transformative power of data and digital has remained central to the NHS’ ability to respond to major events – with the online National Booking Service helping drive the world-leading NHS Covid vaccination programme to administer almost 145 million doses.
In addition, the NHS has continued to harness the latest technology to tackle the extreme pressures seen in urgent and emergency care this winter, for example through the expansion of virtual wards and 24/7 system control centres.
The legal merger has been formally confirmed as, following parliamentary approval, the regulations which transfer the functions of NHS Digital to NHS England and abolish NHS Digital, have been made by ministers and come into effect today.
The transfer, which will include all existing protections for data, sees NHS England become the custodian of national health and social care datasets and the single executive non-departmental public body with responsibility for digital technology, data and health service delivery in the NHS.
The merger of NHS Digital and NHS England comes ahead of the incorporation of the body responsible for the education and training of the health workforce – Health Education England – into the new NHS England on 1 April 2023.
The integration of NHS Digital, Health Education England and NHS England will put workforce, data, digital and technology at the heart of plans to transform the NHS, enabling better, more joined-up decision-making at system, regional and national levels, and a more effective and efficient use of collective resources.
As a single, streamlined organisation, the new NHS England will build on the strengths and expertise of its legacy organisations, while avoiding duplicate activities – enabling it to be even more responsive to changing demand and the biggest challenges, priorities and opportunities of the health system.
It is expected that, by the end of 2023/24, the new organisation will be between 30-40% smaller than the current combined size of NHS England, Health Education England and NHS Digital.
The new, more integrated organisation will also support and accelerate the move to greater partnership working through integrated care systems (placed on statutory footing from 1 July 2022), by speaking with a single national voice and modelling effective joint working.
As integration activities continue, to enable the new NHS England to work efficiently as one single new organisation, almost all systems, processes and job roles are due to remain the same until at least April 2023.
NHS England’s Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “Digital, data and technology already underpin so much of our personal and professional lives. Harnessing the enormous potential they hold will be key to supporting our continued management of and recovery from the pandemic, delivering on our Long Term Plan, and making services better and more sustainable – crucially in ways that support staff to do their best work, and deliver more convenient services for patients.
“Our colleagues from NHS Digital bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise, and a track record of delivering major data and digital projects and services, which will continue to be invaluable in our aim to help the NHS transform and improve the health and care of the people it serves.”
Simon Bolton, Interim CEO at NHS Digital, said: “Our merger with NHS England creates the opportunity to put digital at the heart of the NHS and build on what we’ve already achieved at NHS Digital.
“Technology and data are helping to improve people’s lives every day, whether ordering a repeat prescription through the NHS App, getting the latest health advice from the NHS website, or arranging a Covid vaccine using our national online booking service.
“We’re proud to be making a real difference to both colleagues in the NHS and the people that it serves.
“The merger will help us continue that journey as one central organisation, using digital to transform the NHS and provide the best care possible for patients.”
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “New technology and better data about how our health and care system is working at the frontline is key to improving care for patients.
“Bringing the latest digital tech into the heart of the NHS will help join up services and streamline decision making, boosting our recovery from the Covid pandemic and reducing waiting times.”
More information about the directions given by the Secretary of State can be found on the NHS Digital website.
More information about how data will be protected and safely used in the new NHS England can be found on the NHS England website.