The future direction of health and care systems in Scotland  is set to be mapped out by public sector leaders who will come together at a national summit to assess the impact of a global pandemic on the NHS and care sector. 

Post COVID-19, NHS and care providers have digitised services and designed technological solutions at an unprecedented rate, supported by government, centrally and locally. Years of digital change were compressed into a matter of months as patients stayed at home, clinicians devised new ways of contacting them and  ambitious national programmes were put together at rapid pace to monitor community transmission of the novel coronavirus. 

Technology is no panacea and evidence will show that during the pandemic, many people delayed vital treatments and conditions went undiagnosed. People will have been failed by the system. But for all the inherent flaws of trying to replace or augment human contact, the die has been cast: remote management using sensor-based technologies, video appointments, chatbots and internet-based self-help guides are all here to stay, and will increasingly become part of the service mix between providers and citizen.  

In parallel to digitising systems, the world of data will continue to be unlocked - delivering new insights into population and precision-based medicine. National and local data groups have been established - collecting flows and returns that will inform key decision-making and policy priorities at the highest level, from knowing when to implement future lockdowns, to spotting and intervening to address health inequalities and individual disease markers.  

National strategic aims were laid out in 2018 for the digitisation of health and care and much of this work was already underway; a fresh impetus was given to the strategy with new leadership and governance structures put in place shortly before the outbreak of COVID-19 in Scotland and Public Health Scotland going live just a week after lockdown. The emergence of a highly infectious disease has tested the strength of those organisational structures and policy and technology leaders had to move quickly from oversight to action, with agencies empowered to get on with vital work, providing support and direction for the operational delivery of entire new systems, from basic online health information provision to sophisticated track and trace. 

Expertise from software developers within national NHS bodies was turned towards a variety of platforms and applications: from spinning up the Test & Protect service, to supporting video conferencing platforms for primary and community care, to rolling out productivity tools for a national workforce now based at home, to setting up an SMS-based grocery home delivery service for the shielding community, and devising innovative hospital-based Covid assessment tools. And for the first time an NHS system was rolled out in the largely deregulated care sector, enabling care homes to monitor  coronavirus trends and risks quicker. At the centre of government, digital triage teams worked to assess offers of help from a myriad of private sector providers, keen to showcase their products and contribute to the fight against the virus. The pandemic has been a day of reckoning for many organisations and whereas digital was once regarded as a 'technical’ part of service delivery, it has become central to how we interact with our health and care systems. 

Join us as our national health and care leaders reflect on the challenges which continue to test government, the NHS and care providers, and discuss the future direction of our most valued public service.