NHS Transformation Directorate releases new draft strategy for interoperability

The strategy aims to make information easier to access for both patients and clinicians

11th May 2022 about a 3 minute read
“There are many standards, and their use and purpose are ill-defined; and as such priorities are unclear. Visibility of existing standards, their purpose and which systems are required to be compliant is needed.” How Standards Will Support Interoperability document from the NHS Transformation Directorate

The NHS’s Transformation Directorate, part of NHS England and NHS Improvement, has released a draft strategy aimed at improving digital interoperability across the NHS.

The aim of the strategy, How Standards Will Support Interoperability, is to make sure that digital systems can work together more effectively. It also provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities relating to interoperability. The Transformation Directorate has commissioned the Faculty of Clinical Informatics to support a consultation process to help shape the strategy further.

The strategy document, which is 23 pages long, includes sections on defining a model care record, the architectural approach to creating an interoperable system, making it easier to implement standards, managing standards as a product and making it commercially attractive to develop standards-compliant software.

The future NHS, the document states, is one that “recognises that patients’ information is fragmented and held on distributed systems in many different formats and structures, but where it can be discovered and accessed when needed by clinicians across the system.”

It will support “moving from this fragmented world towards a more consolidated approach, where we want to do so.” The future NHS will also enable patients to have access to information, allow clinicians to be “proactively notified” about information relevant to their patients, and minimise the unnecessary copying and duplication of data between systems.

Creating an end-to-end model

It must be easier to implement standards in the NHS, the document says. Currently, it argues, NHS and social care providers and commissioners, as well as vendors and policy makers, “often do not know what standards exist.” It adds: “There are many standards, and their use and purpose are ill-defined; and as such priorities are unclear. Visibility of existing standards, their purpose and which systems are required to be compliant is needed.”

The strategy proposes creating an end-to-end model that will establish the governance for interoperability standards, “making it clear who has overall responsibility and how knowledge and input from across the system can feed into the governance arrangements from commissioning, priority setting, through adoption, maintenance and deprecation of standards and specifications across all levels – national and local.”

The model will include “clear accountabilities, responsibilities and handoffs” and will clarify funding arrangements for standards.

Building on existing standards

Users will be supported by a standards directory that will provide “a trusted means…to find all the relevant information standards needed, and relevant implementation guidance relevant to meet a particular use case, setting or care provision.”

In order for the strategy to be successful, the NHS needs “patients, people who use services, clinicians, social care staff, developers and system vendors all pulling in the same direction.” There will be an emphasis on reusing and building on existing, and international, standards where possible “so that standards are aligned and information is interoperable across borders.”

The document also states its intention of addressing the challenges of interoperability between health and social care. It recognises that there are “differences in style of record keeping and the type and amount of information recorded about a person between and within health and social care which needs to be harmonised, using a common vocabulary and data items.” This, it adds, “could open up new markets for vendors, to expand beyond their current footprints.

FCC Insight

“This is exactly the sort of initiative Tim Ferris, NHS Director of Transformation, identified would unlock the potential for efficiencies and improvement at his recent presentation to the Cambridge Health Network at the King’s Fund.”

John Grumitt, acting CEO