A sit down with Dr Paul Deffley on the topic of digital solutions for the NHS

This article was originally published in Building Better Healthcare on 17 June 2024.

Dr Paul Deffley is the Chief Medical Officer at Alcidion, a digital solutions company.

Alcidion provides “smarter solutions for clinicians aimed at improving patient safety, operational efficiency, and clinical outcomes,” according to Dr Deffley.

Headquartered in Australia, Alcidion established its UK presence in 2018 through an acquisition, which provided a good foundation to build a dedicated UK team.

Dr Deffley has 20 years of NHS clinical practice experience alongside a range of leadership roles in digital transformation in the healthcare sector.  

The biggest issue affecting the UK health industry 

Since 2023, the NHS has been undergoing a digital transformation, and Dr Deffley has highlighted two main issues affecting its progress this year. 

The biggest issue being productivity in managing patient flow. 

“Productivity, particularly in managing patient flow, has to be the biggest challenge. It is critical to ensure that we can support patient flow through emergency departments, inpatients and into the wider health care system,” Dr Deffley said. 

“Recent evidence highlights the patient harm caused by prolonged stays in the Emergency Departments across the UK, pointing to the need for virtual care, integration with settings outside of the acute trust, and ensuring data mobility and access across the full digital health system. Merely converging systems within acute settings falls short of addressing the major challenges seen across our ICSs. Patient flow and productivity has to be the primary focus,” Dr Deffley explained.

Moreover, Dr Deffley also highlighted funding as the main barrier hindering the implementation of digital solutions to the issue of productivity in the healthcare sector. 

“Acquiring the resources necessary to manage the deployment of digital solutions presents a significant challenge. Funding often hinges on meeting specific time milestones, and with limited resources across the UK, Trusts face difficulties in recruiting, retaining, and managing wage inflation,” Dr Deffley said. 

“This raises questions: will organisations delay deployment if they can’t secure sufficient staff? Can consultancies absorb wage inflation without passing the burden onto NHS Trusts? While investment and the ambition to digitally advance the NHS are commendable goals, the pressure of tight timelines may pose challenges. The NHS will need to navigate these pressures carefully to ensure success,” Dr Deffley continued.

NHS and adopting EPRs 

The second issue Dr Deffley highlighted was support for the NHS to adopt and implement electronic patient record (EPR) systems throughout all of its trusts.   

In the Spring Budget 2024, the government stated that it will spend £3.4bn on boosting productivity in the NHS, including £2bn on updating IT systems.

Specifically, the government will spend £2bn on an update to “fragmented and outdated IT systems across the NHS,” according to the Spring Budget statement issued by the government.  

The NHS’s digital transformation set out by the government includes the target that all NHS trusts must have electronic patient records by March 2026.

A fully integrated EPR will enable NHS Trusts to do more with connected information and enhance patient care as it will eliminate the need for paper processes and to log into separate systems to compile patient information.

However, each NHS trust implementing an EPR system is easier said than done, according to Dr Deffley, without adequate support to do so.

“It is essential to ensure that Trusts receive adequate support for the necessary business change and transformation elements key to successful EPR adoption,” Dr Deffley said 

“Without tailored solutions that address user needs, poorly adopted EPRs risk becoming costly technical deployments with limited benefits and inefficient workarounds,” Deffley explained. 

“The second key factor is to invest in technology that supports collaboration beyond the walls of the Trust, and into community organisations,” Dr Deffley added.

Overall, Dr Deffley has pointed out two main issues affecting the digital transformation of the UK health industry. 

Firstly, the overarching issue of productivity and the barrier of funding to the implementation of digital solutions throughout the NHS and the wider healthcare system, including the funding to recruit and retain staff. 

While a digital upgrade is much needed in the NHS, funding remains the main barrier to trusts not only adopting EPR systems but also implementing them. 

Secondly, Dr Deffley highlighted the issue of support. The NHS must be provided with adequate support for its digital transformation.

To date, Alcidion has over 100 years of collective NHS digital experience and approximately 20% of NHS Trusts already use Alcidion’s smart technology for a range of use cases.