What is the Unified Tech Fund and how do you access it?
National NHS tech funding has long been complicated and fragmented, but NHSX is taking action with the Unified Tech Fund and empowering ICSs to take a leading role. What do system digital health executives need to know about the transition?
The Unified Tech Fund is a key part of NHSX's recently published proposals to tackle issues plaguing tech funding. It is intended to make access to short-term funding easier, through consolidating national 2021/22 funding pots for tech projects into a single Unified Tech Fund. This sits alongside a number of related NHSX initiatives, such as:
- Supporting ICSs to make better technology investments - e.g. NHSX are providing guidance on What Good Looks Like and improving data collection
- Proposing to give ICSs increased control over tech spending from 2022 - if the Who Pays What proposals are enacted, ICSs would receive direct tech funding at the beginning of each financial year
What does it mean for the future of ICSs?
At a high level, these initiatives move towards "system by default" - ICSs will have more control over tech spending, whilst the centre's role will shift to one of setting standards, delivering national products and providing oversight of local spend. Our partner Sam Rose observes:
"ICSs are playing a growing role in setting and making strategic investments in digital. Building a system view will become more and more important to access funding for vital projects."
The initiatives also strongly support the levelling up agenda. NHSX proposes funding shifts to ICSs should initially prioritise levelling up tech capabilities, and this is already visible in the priorities of funds made available for 2021/22. Then, when sufficient progress has been made, there would be a move to a "fair share" funding split.
It's not yet clear how much funding will be available to ICSs at each stage, or the mix of capital and revenue funding. However, systems with the least mature digital infrastructure might expect a significant increase in their funding envelope, whilst current frontrunners might expect a decrease.
Thirdly, in future, digital transformation capabilities could be understood across all care settings via the seven success measures set out by NHSX in What Good Looks Like.
The seven success measures are:
Digital executives should look to align their tech business cases with these success measures and their subcomponents, as tech funding will likely become increasingly aligned with this framework. For example, within the Unified Tech Fund, the pots funding establishment of shared care records and cybersecurity infrastructure directly address subcomponents of the "Ensure smart foundations" measure.
How can leaders access the Unified Tech Fund?
The Unified Tech Fund is a first step in the journey. It combines previously separate national funds into one place with one bidding system, intended to simplify the application process. To access the funds digital health executives will need to act quickly - individual pots will start closing to applications from 7 October 2021 to March 2022. Below we break down the key information decision-makers will need to make the most of the fund.
What do digital health executives need to know about the Unified Tech Fund (UTF)?
The PSC has put together this useful graphic to for digital health executives to find out whether you could benefit from the UTF and, if so, how you can access it.
Applicants can access the online application form here. If you're a digital health executive looking for further support in navigating the NHS tech funding landscape, our Partners Sam Rose and Antonio Weiss would be happy to speak with you directly. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
These changes further reinforce ICSs role in developing coherent digital strategies for their health systems - and is critical to enabling closer system working, reducing variation for patients, and being able to use data smartly to monitor and target health interventions as part of Population Health Management. With the rapid technological change and worsening of inequalities that the pandemic has brought, it feels like a timely response.
If you'd like more information about how regional disparities between emergency departments have grown over COVID, see our blog here.
Author: Eleanor Gibbon, The PSC Strategy and Digital
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