NHS Digital Transformation: Delivering simultaneous COVID and non-COVID care

Back in 2020, the NHS was radically mobilised to manage the effects of COVID-19’s initial peak, significantly scaling back non-COVID related services to cope with demand. The disruption to acute and non-acute patient care was drastic in non-COVID related cases – with approximately 1.5 million fewer elective admissions than usual, alongside 2.60 million fewer first outpatient attendances, between April and June 2020.

Since then, the NHS has drawn focus to the optimisation of both its COVID and non-COVID-related services, as part of its shift from pandemic response to recovery. Exiting the emergency phase of the pandemic following lockdowns, restrictions, and a nationwide vaccination campaign, many of the previously restricted acute and non-acute services were slowly able to resume.

However, with many NHS organisations still delivering COVID-19 related services alongside routine practices, new challenges arise for Trusts working within the “new normal”. In order to navigate this new landscape, accelerated digital transformation has taken place – and continues to develop – throughout every corner of the health service. This week, we take a closer look at three core elements of this digital-first approach in detail.

Applying COVID-19 learnings within NHS digitisation

As part of its plan for “improving access for patients and supporting general practice”, published in October 2021, the NHS highlighted and acknowledged COVID-19’s long term impact on patient care – as well as beneficial changes that begin to change the shape of NHS general practice.

[quote block] “The response to COVID-19 last spring saw an impressive almost overnight adoption of remote consultations and triage-first pathways to ensure care could continue during the first wave of the pandemic. Many of these changes offer long-term benefits for patients and practices.”

Initially, the introduction of digital-first access was essential due to lockdown and social distancing restrictions – however, the time and resource savings delivered by these digital projects (as well as their familiarity with the patients and staff now used to using them) has now rendered them a core priority moving forward as well. Particularly through the adoption of technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), mobile applications, and eForms, the NHS continues to drive digitisation as a means to better serve its patients in the months ahead.

Robotic process automation

Emulating human interactions within a virtual environment, RPA’s importance and leading role in NHS digital transformation precedes the coronavirus outbreak – though its benefits throughout the crisis were more apparent than ever. In order to cope with reduced capacity and increased demand, administrative tasks have been a core prioritisation for digitisation within the NHS – with RPA allowing for the better distribution of saved resources as a result.

Due to its ability to reduce human intervention, costs and rekeying, the acceleration of automated processing has been widespread across the breadth of the NHS. Tackling a barrage of COVID-19 and business-as-usual tasks, the NDL Community alone has seen a vast range of RPA projects launched within both patient and worker focussed remits - from National Immunisation and Vaccination System (NIVS) data uploading and cross-system data migrations, to GP referrals and document management.

Evidenced by its success throughout this time, it’s clear that RPA will continue to play a large role as Trusts move towards COVID-19 management and recovery. Benefits of RPA applications will remain largely the same during this period, with many pandemic-focused automations replicable to routine operations as well, such as:

  • Significant time savings, allowing for management of simultaneous COVID and non-COVID service delivery
  • Reduced admin overheads, relieving healthcare workers of repetitive and laborious manual processes
  • Flexible operation hours and 24/7 capabilities, providing for round-the-clock capacity to tackle backlogs and increased demand
  • Improved data quality, ensuring accurate information as data becomes essential in COVID-19 recovery on a national scale
  • GDPR compliance and reduced data loss risk, including audit trails for full transparency when handling patient data
  • Removed risk of human error, particularly advantageous in periods of higher demand or reduced capacity

Learn more about RPA

Mobile applications

Already frequented in our personal lives, the implementation of mobile applications throughout the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated across the NHS – with their benefits moving firmly into the forefront as we move away from response. Allowing for the digitisation of an extensive range of operations, front-end interfaces have been dramatically beneficial within a range of health-centric processes – and will only continue to deliver during COVID-19 management. 

Evidenced by recent projects within our own community – from patient observation and mortality review mobile application dashboards, to vaccination administration and patient meals apps – mobile working has allowed healthcare workers in a range of departments to streamline and digitise processes for increased productivity, reduced risk and freedom to capture information on the go.

With the repurposing and structuring of wards and services in-line with current demands, it’s no surprise handheld devices have taken the reigns from paper-based processes throughout various stages of care. Allowing for better social distancing, communication between shifts and reduced data loss - mobile apps have proven invaluable throughout COVID response, with many benefits applicable now to recovery too:

  • Streamlined processes, allowing for more efficient capture, processing and monitoring of data throughout simultaneous delivery of COVID and non-COVID services
  • Freedom to roam with handheld devices, facilitating easy access to data and capture methods at a range of posts, bases, or wards as services adapt and evolve
  • User friendly processes, utilising the familiarity of mobile applications in a professional healthcare setting for simple, accurate working
  • Dashboards and best practice data keeping, providing essential insights and reporting throughout the entirety of a workflow with multiple internal or external touchpoints
  • Field formatting, to ensure the capture of congruent data – such as text only fields, drop-down options or valid contact number verification
  • Enhanced design and accessibility features, to ensure unified and equal working for improved staff experience

Learn more about apps


Enabling the virtual capture of information, eForms are quick to develop and applicable to a diverse range of purposes within the healthcare sector – resulting in their widespread implementation throughout the pandemic, particularly in COVID-19 vaccination bookings and test result self-reporting. Used for both internal and patient-focused purposes, eForms are sure-fire way to relieve some of the granular impacts of the pandemic with long-term effect.

By nature, eForms are accessible through internet browsers via URL link – allowing them to be used by both staff and patients – and are extremely easy to deliver with the right inhouse skillsets. The NDL Community has seen numerous NHS small and large scale eForm projects throughout the pandemic – from staff redeployment and COVID-19 risk assessment forms, to community immunisation consent and digital PROMs – all delivered in short succession.

For these reasons, it’s safe to assume eForms will continue to play a key role in digital-first processes – of which the NHS aims to prioritise throughout COVID-19 management. Delivering many of the same replicable benefits throughout this shift, expect to find advantages such as the following when adopting eForms into recovery:

  • Improved response rates, due to eForm convenience and extended reach in both employee and patient landscapes
  • Eliminated risk of data loss, as information can be integrated directly with databases or existing back-office systems
  • Savings in time, costs, and resources, removing the need to print and distribute paper-based forms and questionnaires
  • Adaptable to suit specific needs, in-line with accessibility needs across the community and NHS internal teams
  • Reduced carbon footprint, with paper wastage, printing and transporting minimised or eliminated within the digital process
  • Added security, ensuring GDPR compliance and best data practices – essential to data collection on both a local and national scale

Learn more about eForms

Value, replicability & co-production

Looking to bolster your Trust’s COVID-19 recovery with a digital-first approach? Get in touch with a member of the NDL team to learn how RPA, mobile apps and eForms can impact your organisation – and don’t forget to register for one of our forthcoming events to learn more about frontline digitisation across the public sector.