NHSX and NHS Digital to merge with NHS England

Review into NHS technology leadership makes series of recommendations to embed digital technology into the heart of the NHS

25th November 2021 about a 3 minute read
“Without a more profound consolidation, digital will remain in its silo, and the essential interplay between the tech function and the wider business cannot happen to the degree necessary.” Laura Wade-Gery, author of 'Putting data, digital and tech at the heart of transforming the NHS'


NHS Digital and NHSX will both become part of NHS England, as recommended in the newly-published review of NHS technology leadership by Laura Wade-Gery.

The review describes NHSX, established in 2019, as a “very successful catalyst of change.” Among its achievements, it has “improved focus, faced into critical architectural and technical standards, increased resources devoted to the tech agenda and driven innovations such as COVID-19 home monitoring or vaccine data on the app.”

This makes it the right time to “embed digital into wider transformation”, the review says: “Having successfully advocated for the integration of digital into the whole, NHSX no longer needs a separate identity, and can become a key, integrated driver of the new approach to transformation.”

NHS Digital has been similarly successful, the review says, having “demonstrated the criticality of having national digital platforms to support the delivery of population-scale health services with high availability.” In the vaccination programme, for example, teams were fully embedded into NHS England’s service delivery, and delivered “everything from the national booking service to the data flows that underpin the operational, clinical and citizen-facing systems such as COVID Pass.”

Digital cannot remain in silos

Because of the current organisational divide, however, “data and technology have been too separate,” the review says, adding: “Without a more profound consolidation, digital will remain in its silo, and the essential interplay between the tech function and the wider business cannot happen to the degree necessary.”

In all, the report makes nine recommendations, including making future service transformation more patient centred; taking digital inequality into account when designing service transformation, and mitigating against it; and working to improve patient trust in the use of health data. It also recommends that digital technology should be central to transforming care, and that NHS England Improvement should “seek to re-prioritise spend from within the wider NHSE budget to support accelerated digital transformation”.

The review presents a vision of the “tech-enabled citizen centred healthcare services” that the reorganised NHS technology landscape is designed to achieve. These include “getting your questions answered by a trusted source at any time, day or night, using your phone” and the ability to choose “if the source is a customized webpage or a live person.”

It adds: “You see your options for scheduling an appointment or a diagnostic test and you choose what works for you. You renew your prescriptions online and they are waiting for you at the pharmacist within hours. And you always have access to your complete healthcare records.”

Acknowledging that implementing the recommendations requires “significant” change management effort, the report says it will need “full-time resource and the determined sponsorship and commitment of the new CEO of NHSEI and the CEO of NHSD and their wider Executive Team and Boards.”

The news announcing the merger was announced in a letter to staff by Amanda Pritchard, the CEO of NHS England Improvement. In the same letter, she also announced that Health Education England would become part of NHS England.