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Department of Health sets out its digital strategy

Wants civil servants to “embrace digital opportunities” to improve health, care and value

The UK's Department of Health has to become much more 'digitally enabled' if it is to help steer the health service through the significant changes it faces.

That was the message to civil servants and other staff in the Department's new Digital Strategy, which it hopes will improve health and care and deliver “better value for all”.

Dr Dan Poulter, parliamentary under-secretary of state for health, said: “This Digital Strategy will change the way we work inside the Department, how we connect with the world outside and the way we work with our partners across the wider health and social care community.

“It will make everything we do simpler, clearer and faster,” he added.

The new policy follows on from the 10-year Information Strategy the Department of Health launched in May, which aims to change the way patients, the public and healthcare professionals access information.

In contrast, the new strategy is inward-looking, focusing on the role of the Department itself, its policy making and its role as a “steward of the new health and care system”.

This system is currently contending with a huge series of reforms that will see wholesale changes to responsibilities, functions and organisations, with many due to officially take effect in April, 2013.

To help civil servants contend with these changes, they will be trained to make consistent use of digital techniques to inform policy development and engage different audiences.

A new minimum digital standard will be created for all formal consultations, while policymakers will be provided with a 'toolkit' to help them identify the most appropriate digital tools and techniques for each stage of the policy cycle.

The 'digital first' approach, which is already being rolled out across the NHS as part of the Innovation Health and Wealth programme, will be extended to all communications activity and evaluation, starting with a formal pilot in early 2013.

Staff will also be encouraged to use social channels for communication, staff engagement and relationship-building.

Meanwhile, along with replacing the existing NHS Choices website later this year with a customer service platform that integrates telephone, the internet, email, texts and online tools, a community of digital professionals within the health and care system will be set up.

Noting the programme is an ambitious one, the government said “transforming the future Department of Health by applying digital tools and techniques to everything it does … requires real internal commitment and culture change”.

The next step towards this will be a formal action plan and timetable for making good on this promise, and this will be developed as part of the Future DH Programme in early 2013.

• Read the Department of Health's Digital Strategy in full

2nd January 2013

From: Healthcare

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