Prof. Maureen Baker CBE, Chair of PRSB

“We must ensure that the information being shared between systems is high-quality, standardised and safe. As remote services become increasingly common, information will truly be the backbone of the system, and a vital tool for the job”

Facing a public health crisis

This spring the UK found itself in an unprecedented position, facing the worst public health crisis in more than a century. When the world locked down, we saw some of the technologies we have discussed for years being adopted at breakneck speed. As a retired GP I found myself called back to the frontline, and began operating 111 calls from home. The increase in remote working, and virtual consultations has revolutionised aspects of the system, allowing more people to return to work and support services, and enjoy more flexibility in delivering them. 

While this is all positive, it is vital that health and care services keep safety at the forefront. In addition to analysing the new processes we are using, we must ensure that the information being shared between systems is high-quality, standardised and safe. As remote services become increasingly common, information will truly be the backbone of the system, and a vital tool for the job. Research we conducted with doctors last year, in collaboration with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, showed clinicians have the appetite to work more digitally, but they also feel strongly that systems can only be fully digitised if frontline professionals are directly involved in their design, procurement and implementation.  

Collaboration with professionals and patients is something I’ve championed since my arrival in PRSB, and I’m pleased to say we have developed our engagement with a wide audience this year. In 2019/20 we welcomed four new members to the advisory board, with representatives from the Paediatric Intensive Care Society, Health Data Research UK (HDRUK), Allied Health Professionals Northern Ireland, The Intensive Care Society and the Faculty of Public Health joining us.

Since April of this year, our advisory board meetings have become ‘virtual’. It has made it easier for more participants to get involved, and we are enjoying record attendance and contributions from our members.  Meanwhile we have also expanded our consultation with patient and carer groups, through regular workshops, focus groups and tweet chats, increasing the level of diversity in our work.

We have increased our level of engagement with different groups, with speeches and panel sessions at many major health and care events, such as the RCGP conference, Healthcare Excellence Through Technology (HETT) conference, and the Digital Health Rewired event. 

We are growing our active network of people in order to support greater participation in decisions about health and wellbeing so that patients feel they are more in control of their lives. PRSB’s strategy will address how we can better meet the needs of people, working in partnership with others, to provide the digital tools and information to make people feel they can make informed decisions with someone who understands their health, care and wellbeing goals. As COVID-19 continues to increase our reliance on digital tools, it is crucial that people are able to better manage their own care and have access to the tools to do so. In light of recent reports on health care safety, such as Baroness Cumberlege’s investigation into the damage caused to women from unsafe devices and treatments, the focus on quality information sharing has never been more crucial. In order to ensure people have the tools they need to play an active role in their own wellbeing, standardised information will be invaluable. 

We’re already seeing the benefits of standards in action in some areas. Over the next year we aim to continue this drive for implementation of standards, to ensure that the core goals of both the PRSB and the wider NHS and care services can truly be met.