Digital transformation key to delivering joined up healthcare and tackling the post-pandemic backlog, says RSM UK

RSM UK says more collaboration between private and public sector healthcare providers is crucial to help address the growing backlog and deliver better outcomes for patients. The leading audit tax and consulting firm believes a strategic, joined up approach to digital transformation of healthcare could play a major part in addressing the current backlog challenge.

Recent figures published by the BMA (British Medical Association) illustrates the scale of the growing healthcare backlog, with over 7 million people were awaiting treatment, and an average wait time of nearly 14 weeks. Data from the National Audit Office (NAO) shows the number of patients waiting over 12 hours from decision to admission has also risen by 34%, to a record total of 43,800 in October 2022 – over 60 times higher than October 2019. 

The increasing pressures are leading to staff shortages, with ONS figures*** showing vacancies in the healthcare sector have reached record levels in 2022 and the number of unfilled posts is growing at a rate of 11% which is 4 times the UK average of 2.7%. 

Suneel Gupta, head of private healthcare at RSM UK says: ‘It’s never been more critical for public and private sectors in healthcare to work in tandem to develop systems that deliver better patient care for the long term. Strategic digital transformation is the key to addressing the pandemic backlog, and the wide range of healthcare challenges, from reducing wait times, to delivering care in more innovative ways, and ensuring data security to protect patient confidentiality and improve communication between different providers.’

According to RSM UK’s latest The Real Economy’ report over a quarter (28%) of UK businesses now consider digital transformation to be their single most important area of investment. In the healthcare sector, strategic digital transformation is essential to future-proof healthcare services, but with a shortage of digital skills, a high prevalence of cyber-attacks, and ever-shrinking budgets, digital transformation is in itself a challenge.

One major issue for healthcare is the prevalence of legacy systems which don’t talk to each other. As healthcare systems now work more collaboratively as part of Integrated Care Systems (ICS), organisations need to develop a digital strategy that works across a range of different types of healthcare providers. With wider partnerships within the private and public sectors, careful data management is also needed to ensure security and confidentiality is maintained, and communication is improved.

Suneel Gupta continues: ‘Although the pandemic has undoubtedly put enormous pressure on both the NHS and supporting public and private healthcare services, it has also been a huge catalyst for change, and this represents an enormous opportunity to make improvements for both patients and staff. There is a myriad of opportunities to work with providers of new medical technologies and biotech, and greater collaboration could unlock huge improvements if it is coordinated in the right way.’

A clear digital strategy is essential to successful digital transformation across the healthcare sector. A report published by the National Audit Office in May 2020 warned that unless issues such as a lack of digital skills, and interoperability between systems is addressed, the £8.1 billion budget for NHS digital transformation may not deliver value for money. In November 2021, a governance review by the chair of NHS Digital recommended a more coherent approach to digital transformation in NHS national bodies. 

Suneel Gupta concludes: ‘While it’s encouraging to see the healthcare sector prioritising investment in digital transformation, organisations that don’t have a clear digital strategy driven from the top are less likely to achieve long term success. A good digital strategy should consider patients, employees, data security, wider architecture, skills and culture, and above all it should be aligned to the wider healthcare strategy. With budgets tight for many, and increasing costs exacerbating the problem, this could prove to be a tall order for many healthcare providers.’