Digital innovation has potential to transform primary care

Wow, it’s been a great start to November in the world of Digital Technology!

It began with an exciting design workshop to develop the Children’s Digital Strategy in London.

The energy and levels of contribution were amazing. So many passionate professionals eager to design a digital roadmap, exploring the options for transforming children’s services, enabled through the use of technology over the next five years.

This was followed by one of the biggest healthcare technology events of the year – EHI Live in Birmingham.

EHI Live is always a big show for us in the Digital Technology team, but for the Digital Primary Care Programme this year it was extra special, as we had our own dedicated conference stream.

We designed the full two day agenda and brought together speakers from NHS England and the wider NHS who we felt would give delegates an understanding of how we are achieving the fundamental vision set out in the Five Year Forward View and the NIB Framework, Personalised Health and Care 2020.

It was great to hear both Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Beverley Bryant, Director of Digital Technology at NHS England, starting and finishing the first day of the show with consistent keynotes which outlined our commitment to an NHS that is paper-free at the point of care, along with an update of the great work that has been accomplished across the entire portfolio of Digital Technology since last year’s EHI.

I had the unique position of kicking off our conference stream both days with an overview of the digital primary care programme, its high level objectives and the work achieved so far, as well as our plans for the next five years.

The key highlights focussed on improving patient access to their GP, while making best use of general practice resources. The recent study Making time in general practice by reducing bureaucracy, reported that if 30% of patients in a 10,000 patient practice accessed their records twice a year, this would save 4,747 appointments and 8,020 telephone calls with a cost saving of £29 per patient.

We have seen some fantastic innovation in the Prime Minister’s GP Access Fund with many great examples of how digital technology has improved patient and professional satisfaction in the way care is delivered.

Have you seen the first independent National Evaluation Report (this report is now available on our archived website) for improving access to general practice that focuses on early learning from wave one?   We have learnt that a digital service has the potential to transform primary care, as long as the infrastructure and high quality IT clinical systems facilitate this and is supported by an open and vibrant technology market.

Indi Singh, Head of Enterprise Architecture at NHS England, launched the Code4Health Interoperability Community which supports an open information sharing environment, using open interfaces and standards. The Interoperability strategy promotes the use of open APIs to facilitate information sharing between organisations. This will ensure that soon, all patients will have access to their Summary Care Record, and will have the ability to positively contribute to their own care.

Mike Smith, Digital Primary Care Technical Lead, provided an update of the work being undertaken in Primary Care to develop use cases and the underpinning technical capabilities needed to create information sharing across multiple general practices and other health and social care boundaries.

If we can get the fundamentals of interoperability right then we have the foundations in place to deliver our ambitions of paper-free at the point of care and strengthening primary care to create easier access to general practice services that fit around the patient’s family and work life.

Another exciting part of the discussion was the Digital Primary Care operating model that is currently under development. This is a single operating model which will help us to implement our ambitions and incentivise the adoption of sustainable technology that can respond to the mounting expectations of citizens in a constantly changing digital world. For example, booking appointments online, ordering repeat prescriptions and being referred to clinical services online.

Fundamentally, the quality of service delivery and use of digital technology and services can now be assured through the GP IT Assurance tool, ably demonstrated by Sue Cooke and Lee Harrison from the GP IT Team.

We had lots of positive feedback from CCGs as they recognised how much it will support them in their role as lead commissioner of general practice technology, giving them the insight needed to be an ‘Informed Customer’.

EHI Live had great energy and it was lovely to see so many people supporting the Digital Primary Care Programme. I am really looking forward to next year to showcase more amazing work ahead!

Tracey Grainger

Tracey Grainger is Head of Digital Primary Care Development at NHS England with responsibility for supporting transformation across general practice and child health information services. This includes supporting services with a choice of high quality clinical IT systems, tailored to local requirements, while enabling the flexibility and innovation to meet current and future service needs of our patients and citizens.

She has over 24 years’ experience within the NHS that has involved leading service management, performance improvement and large scale transformational change programmes both enabled through technology and organisational development. Tracey has worked across national, regional and local levels in a variety of health care settings.

She is currently supporting the digital programme within the Estates and Technology Fund to support the delivery of new and enhanced technology solutions that will significantly improve patients’ access to services through innovative care models, making them available through digital enablement to all users of health and care data to support the delivery of better, safer care.


  1. michael branagan-harris says:

    the opportunities for digital health was launched in 2011 at the NHS Expo, where there was significant focus on the millions that could be saved though monitoring patients at home. 4 years later it appears that the NHS has made very little progress in this space. The reason being that these wearable technologies are not drugs and thus reimbursement is very very difficult. who and how are these devices paid for?

    The NHS needs to make rapid progress now as by 2022 17,000 beds will needed which is 22x x 800 bedded hospitals if the current demands continue. Someone needs to implement a way to enable MedTech and Digital technologies to be reimbursed faster.

    • NHS England says:

      Thank you for your comment.

      Although, small scale-testing the PM GP Access Fund schemes have introduced new technologies to support new ways of working, for example clinician led decision making at local level. Clinicians decide what they want to try and works with their patient. Then an evidence based and tested commissioning mechanism is to build this into the service provision based on the what is learned from improved service and patient outcomes.

      Kind regards
      NHS England