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Frontline funds for digitalization diverted to cover costs of industrial action

A new guidance letter from NHS England to trusts on industrial action suggests that planned investments in frontline digitalization could be withdrawn from all but the least digitalized trusts.

The planned funds will be diverted to form part of the £800 million redirected nationally to ICBs to help offset the impact of the strike. “This is intended to support systems facing financial pressures and risks, including but not limited to industrial action,” the letter said.

The letter implies that only the least digitized trusts will now receive the expected investments from the frontline digitization program.

Digital Health News understands the potential misuse of frontline digitalization funds was informed on Tuesday during the weekly NHSE CIO call.

The Frontline Digitization programme, initially budgeted at £2.6 billion over three years, is intended to help NHS trusts achieve a baseline level of digitalisation.

In August 2023, it was revealed that the program had been cut by more than £630 million during the 2022-23 year, according to information released by the Government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority. This reduced funding for the program from £2.6 billion to £2 billion.

NHS England classifies trusts into four descending groups – three, two, one and zero – based on their digital maturity in electronic patient records (EPR), with trusts in group zero having no EPR and one having a business case for an ECD.

The new letter from the NHSE says: “Funding for frontline digitalization at Category 0 and 1 providers will be prioritized”, indicating that the 132 trusts in Group 2, who had been promised money to optimize or expand their EPRs, will no longer receive investment.

Digital Health News understands that many trusts had already signed memorandums of understanding with NHS England for the funds, which had been included in the budget plans.

Addressing IT and technology, the letter states: We will communicate decisions and implications as soon as possible following national decisions. However, we hope that funding for Mobile First – Wayfinder will remain available in line with commitments to the systems, and that funding for frontline digitalization at Tier 0 and Tier 1 providers will be prioritized.

The letter goes on to state: “It is, however, unlikely that underspends or re-profilings within these programs will be available for re-prioritization at the local level.”

Paul Jones, CDIO at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS trust and chair of the CIO network advisory committee, said: “FD’s priority should always have been on trusts without an EPR or on trusts where the electronic patient record is at the end of its life cycle. life, the broader investment around HIMMS Level 5 has always been somewhat arbitrary and not supported by clear arguments for benefits.

“That said, many trusts in category two will have already committed funds and so withdrawing them at this stage of the financial year will simply put additional pressure on trust budgets.”

Responding to questions about the frontline digitalisation budget, the NHSE press office said: “We are using some of the remaining funds from wider departmental budgets. Any changes to the overall technology and investment budgets will be reviewed in more detail and will be confirmed in the usual manner.

A new message on the NHSE website from Julian Kelly, NHS England’s chief financial officer, says: “The impact of more than 40 days of industrial action this financial year has created unavoidable financial costs that we estimate around £1 billion. with an equivalent loss of elective activity.”

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