Nuffield Trust: Lessons from European health systems can help strengthen NHS digital ambitions post-pandemic

New research by Rachel Hutchings reviews the approaches to digital health care from five European health systems which have made significant progress.

Press release

Published: 24/11/2021

Learning from the experience of other European health systems can ensure the NHS makes best use of digital health technology to benefit both patients and staff post-pandemic, according to a report published by the Nuffield Trust.                                                                                            

Embedding digital technology in England’s NHS has historically been challenging, with inadequate funding, outdated infrastructure and limited interoperability all contributing to slow progress.

The Covid-19 pandemic has proved a game changer for the NHS and international health systems with a huge increase in for example, the use of remote consultations and technology to support patients at home. But, it is not only the NHS that has faced challenges in making sure digital technology is embedded in the most beneficial way for patients and health care professionals.

The attached report, Fit for the future: What can the NHS learn about digital health care from other European countries?, looks at the approach to digital health care taken by five European countries who have all made significant progress. While solutions cannot be simply transposed from one country’s health system to another, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Portugal all have successful experience that may offer useful learning for the NHS. 

Key findings include:

  • The countries that have performed well in embedding digital technology in health care benefit from the use of digital across multiple public services, including areas such as voting and education.
  • Where digital technology is widely used to access public services, the use of digital technologies and data to support health care has been less controversial, widely expected and accepted as the norm.
  • To foster success, cultivating public confidence and trust in the use of health care data must be a priority.
  • Digital solutions should be designed collaboratively with staff and end users, ensuring services are accessible to citizens and embedding digital technology into staff education.
  • The existence of a digital health infrastructure ahead of the pandemic has assisted those countries with their response e.g., platforms for accessing test results.
  • Across these systems, measuring progress or impact of digital innovations in a meaningful way remains challenging. Where possible, measures should focus on outcomes, rather than just the availability of digital health tools.
  • Long-term and sustainable investment remains crucial, but this remains a challenge for the NHS, and other international systems, given that much of health care is financed through short-term, annual budgets.

The response to the pandemic has helped to highlight the benefits to patients and health care professionals. But, to maintain this shift in the long-term the NHS must use the learning from other successful systems as a basis of our approach to digital going forward.

Commenting on the research, Nuffield Trust Researcher Rachel Hutchings said:

“Like the NHS, digital technology has played a significant role in countries’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. In some cases, this has built on years of significant investment in digital infrastructure across all public services including health care.

Although digital transformation is not an end in itself, it will play a key role as health systems around the world recover from the pandemic. Despite differences between them, there is a lot to learn by looking at the approach other countries have taken. This will help the NHS to embed these solutions for the long-term, to the benefit of both patients and health care professionals.”


Notes to editors

  1. The Nuffield Trust is an independent health think tank. We aim to improve the quality of health care in the UK by providing evidence-based research and policy analysis and informing and generating debate.
  2. For all queries or to arrange an interview, contact: Simon Keen: 07780 475571 /; or Meesha Patel: 07920 043676 /