The impact of Covid-19 on the use of digital technology in the NHS

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the adoption of digital technology in the NHS and changes to the way services are delivered at an incredible pace. So as the health service works hard to get back to something like normality, are all the elements of this sea change in digital practice positive, or do some adaptations need further scrutiny before they become more deeply embedded?

Report

Published: 27/08/2020

ISBN: 978-1-910953-83-9

Download the PDF [PDF 197.9KB]

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic reached the UK in January 2020, the drive for the NHS to make better use of digital technology had already started to take centre stage, with the government placing clear strategic focus on integrating digital technology and tools further and more widely throughout the health and care system.

But the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes to the way the NHS delivers services, and the use of digital technology is no exception. This briefing explores how Covid-19 has changed the use of technology in the NHS, what has enabled these changes to happen, some possible risks and downsides and what might happen next.

Key points

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the rapid adoption of digital technology in the NHS and significant changes in the delivery of services more widely – to free up space and capacity in acute hospitals, enable remote working and reduce the risk of infection transmission in NHS settings. Primary care in particular has seen a huge increase in remote appointments. 
  • There has also been a surge in patients’ uptake of remote health services, including registrations for the NHS App, NHS login and e-prescription services. 
  • These changes have happened at an incredible pace. Central bodies have taken steps to enable the changes to occur, providing guidance on information governance and fast-track procurement frameworks, for example. Meanwhile, health care professionals have had to respond innovatively to continue to provide services to patients. 
  • But despite the undeniable progress that has been made, it is important to proceed with caution. Especially when changes happen at such a pace, there are possible risks and downsides.
  • It is essential that we understand – through robust evaluation and research – what the impact of the rapid shift towards digital technology has been on clinical practice, patients’ access to and quality of care, and the experiences of patients and staff. Studies in these areas remain limited, so more work is needed to learn from the experience and determine whether we need to revisit existing priorities. 
  • To embed the positive work that has been done during the pandemic and ensure that it is sustainable in the future, it needs to be underpinned by adequate funding, infrastructure and the necessary workforce. 
  • The effects of Covid-19 are going to continue for a long time. As the NHS resumes routine services, understanding where digital technology can help and add most value is more important than ever. 

Suggested citation

Hutchings R (2020) The impact of Covid-19 on the use of digital technology in the NHS. Briefing, Nuffield Trust.