The digitisation of health and social care

21 October 2022


The digitisation of health and social care

Reported by Florence Robinson Adams, Policy Assistant at CSaP

The Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement (CAPE) team at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Science and Policy hosted a day of talks for members of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to discuss the digital transformation of healthcare services. CAPE Policy Fellow Diane Pochard and her five colleagues from the Digital Strategy and Policy Team at the DHSC attended the pilot ‘Team Learning Day' event on Wednesday 28 September at Christs College in Cambridge.

The government’s new plan for digital health and social care draws on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and sets out a vision for a digitised health and social care system, outlining priorities needed for this transformation. One major objective of the Digital Strategy and Policy Unit is to identify opportunities for digitising public services, and to work with policy teams across the civil service to deliver these changes. As the government embarks on this program of transformative technological change, fast-evolving skills gaps are expected to open, which will demand collaborative and flexible working styles.

The day got under way with a presentation from Jaideep Prabhu, Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business & Enterprise at the Cambridge Judge Business School. Professor Prabhu discussed his work on frugal innovation, an approach to innovation that advocates, in short, doing more with less. His most recent book – How Should a Government Be? – outlines the implications of this idea for our public services. As technological advances yield ever-expanding possibilities to cut down on lengthy bureaucratic processes, the frugal state is one that capitalises on these possibilities to deliver efficient and effective public services that can break down bureaucratic silos and propel much-needed resources to the frontline.

One case study that interested the team was that of Buurtzorg, an at-home care organisation in the Netherlands that embodies the model of frugal innovation. Jos de Blok, a Dutch nurse, noticed that the hierarchal and silo-ed social care system in the Netherlands at the time interfered with the quality of care that patients were receiving. In its place, he set up Buurtzorg Nederland. Buurtzorg – which means ‘neighbourhood care’ – works with minimal bureaucracy and low overheads, allowing resources to be pushed to the frontlines to deliver high-quality care at low cost.

After a lunch in the Portrait Room at Christ’s College, the team were joined Magda Osman, CSaP’s Head of Research and Analysis and Professor of Cognitive Science, to discuss heuristics for challenging implicit assumptions when designing policy interventions. Professor Osman and Nick Cosstick, CSaP’s Policy Researcher, have conducted an analysis which reveals that, whilst the questions that tend to confront policy professionals are for the most part operational, it is more specific, causal analysis that tends to motivate academic research. The process of unpacking the underlying causal chain that connects problem, intervention and potential solution has the potential to facilitate more impactful academic policy engagement.

How can government do more with less, and think outside the box when it comes to tackling high-priority policy questions? Key takeaways from the day included the potential to apply the model of frugal innovation in government, the importance of taking time out to think about issues, stimulated by expert input, and even the potential to use crises as a springboard for organisational change.

Florence Robinson Adams

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge