News round-up (10 February 2023)

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9th February 2023 about a 5 minute read

In the past five years, the NHS has been playing catch-up in its efforts to digitise paper processes. Although it has made some progress, it seems that two out of five integrated care systems still lack a digital strategy – and NHS England’s technology budget has dropped below £1bn, meaning that some trusts may not be able to implement electronic patient record (EPR) systems. There is more promising news, however, for men with prostate cancer symptoms – a pilot study has found that a new blood test can identify the disease with much greater accuracy than the current PSA test.

Two out of five integrated care systems lack a digital strategy

Eighteen out of the 42 integrated care systems (ICSs) lack a strategy for developing digital services, according to research conducted by HSJ.

Six of the 18, however, have draft strategies awaiting approval from their constituent organisations. The West Midlands, the home counties, and the North East are the areas where digital planning is the least advanced, the publication found. Twenty-four ICSs said they had completed and published their digital strategy, while two ICSs did not respond to Freedom of Information requests submitted by HSJ.

Having a digital strategy is a central part of ICS’s digital requirements under NHS England’s What Good Looks Like framework, which sets out the digital capabilities required of ICSs and trusts. ICSs have until 2025 to be compliant with the framework.

NHS tech funding falls to less than £1bn

NHS England’s technology budget has now dropped to below £1bn after money has been diverted elsewhere, according to HSJ.

The cut in funding means there is less money left for technology programmes, including the project for every trust to have an electronic patient record (EPR) system. A source told HSJ that it might mean around a dozen trusts which are in need of new EPRs do not get them. There is believed to be enough money left to pay for about 10 EPRs – though as of last spring, there were nearly 30 trusts without an EPR.  NHSE told the NHS Pay Review Body that it had “reduced funding available to systems to support investment in technology” in order to meet financial pressures caused by staff pay rises and inflation, which the government is refusing to cover.

New prostate cancer test could make biopsies unnecessary

A new blood test for prostate cancer could reach accuracy of 94% and prevent the need for men to have biopsies, according to new research.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among British men, with 47,000 diagnoses a year. Men with possible signs of the disease are offered a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which has low reliability, however. Although tens of thousands of men who take the test go on to have a tissue biopsy of the prostate gland, tumours are found in only a quarter of cases.

The new chromosomal blood test, developed by Oxford BioDynamics, in collaboration with Imperial College and the University of East Anglia, was evaluated in a pilot study of 147 men with prostate cancer. When combined with the PSA test, it achieved an accuracy of 94%. If implemented more widely, it would result in fewer men needing to have a tissue biopsy.

MPs urge government to continue war on cancer after U-turn

More than 50 MPs from different political parties have asked the government to reverse its decision to scrap its 10-year plan for tackling cancer backlogs.

The plan was announced by Sajid Javid, the then health secretary, last spring. Javid promised a “war on cancer” and a vision for tackling the disease that would be world-leading. Last week, however, the government announced it was abandoning the cancer plan, along with other strategies it had announced on mental health and dementia.

Among the 51 MPs who signed a letter to the government asking it to reverse its decision were 23 Conservative MPs and 12 Labour MPs. One of the signatories was Elliot Colburn, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer, and the vice-chairman Grahame Morris, who said: “Delays for cancer treatment are the worst they have ever been. And it now appears the long-delayed dedicated cancer plan has been scrapped.”

Watchdog calls for NHS England to demonstrate its trustworthiness on data

The national data guardian, Nicola Byrne, has called for greater clarity from NHS England on how it will make sure there are “as strong… if not stronger” safeguards on health and care data following its takeover of NHS Digital.

NHS Digital became part of NHS England on 1 February, and its teams and functions are due to merge in coming months. Byrne told HSJ that the merger creates “an inherent tension in having one organisation be both data custodian and the organisation seeking to access the data”, although it “makes sense in terms of streamlining and efficiencies”.

The campaign group medConfidential has raised concerns about the merger’s information governance implications, such as the possibility of less transparency over the handling of data, and that NHS England would be “marking its own homework” as both a controller of data and a major user of it.

Government sets out strategy to increase access to medical technology

The government has published a medical technology strategy, which includes accelerating patient access to innovative medical technologies.

The idea is that by enabling patients to access medical technologies more quickly, the NHS will be able to reduce hospital stays, improve diagnosis, prevent illness and free up staff time. The strategy, published on 3 February, highlights four areas: ensuring resilience and continuity of supply of medtech products; supporting innovation and encouraging thriving, dynamic markets; developing enabling infrastructure; and a specific focus on key issues and markets.

The strategy aims to deliver value for money, using the latest data on the effectiveness of new technology to make sure prices are reasonable for the health system.