A group working collaboratively together

Previously, we explored how data sharing will help ICSs to level up their care. We looked at how improving collaboration and proliferating best practice will ensure all individuals – regardless of their circumstances – can access the highest quality services. Now, we’ll look at the role of technology in underpinning collaboration and in driving more joined-up, effective care.

Capitalising on collaboration

Do you remember when health and care providers were strongly encouraged to compete with each other for business? Anyone in the NHS will appreciate this was at best a double-edged sword. Competition incentivises individual provider organisations to improve their services and gives patients more choice. However, it can also lead to poor coordination, duplication of effort and wasted resources. Striking a balance is key.

Collaboration has been a priority for the NHS since the Five Year Forward View was published in 2014. It was also underlined more recently in The Long Term Plan. But COVID-19 threw it into sharp relief. With unprecedented demand—and limited finances—siloed competition was no longer a viable option. The sheer scale of the task called for a collective response. Health and care providers shifted their focus towards more collaboration. Leveraging technology at the same time to facilitate collaboration and improve outcomes for local communities.

Louise Robson, Chief Executive Lead for Provider Collaboration across the North of England, puts it best:

“The collaborative response of trusts working together to deal with the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 gave a tantalising glimpse of the potential achievements that could be realised by working at scale.”

COVID-19 is just one of the many challenges the NHS has been facing lately. But it has shown that successfully levelling up communities is without doubt a shared endeavour.

Levelling up begins with integration

Female nurse sharing screen of a Surface Go 3 with a patient while holding a Surface Pen.

This is where Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) come in. They bring together NHS, local councils and voluntary organisations, as well as wider delivery partners. ICSs seek to unlock the full potential of collaboration and provide better services to all. Early signs are promising. According to a survey by the NHS Confederation: “90 percent of system leaders believe they have been able to improve joint working quite or very effectively.”

ICSs are not a silver bullet, though. There is significant variance between different areas and complex relationships to negotiate. Many regions, such as the South East, have large numbers of NHS providers and multiple local authorities. They all must find ways to work together effectively. As the NHS Confederation notes: “Ultimately the success of systems (as with many healthcare reforms) will rely most on the kind of culture that develops between partners.”

Technology drives collaboration

How can health and care providers establish clear lines of communication, responsibility and accountability, both within and between each ICS? And, crucially, how can they provide the kind of care that truly levels up communities?

There remains much to work out, but one thing is certain: Technology will be essential.

Microsoft was proud to support health and care providers during COVID-19. Microsoft Teams, in particular, proved invaluable. By enabling collaborative and remote working, we helped staff to improve safety and productivity. They were able to deliver essential services to the people who needed them the most.

Collaboration allows the care team to optimise resources and solve problems together. But there are many other ways in which technology can help health and care professionals to work together more effectively.

A person on a telehealth call with doctor

For instance, patient monitoring, supported by Internet of Things (IoT) devices and analytics, ensures that staff are aware of their patients’ needs, and can coordinate and escalate their involvement accordingly. When organised into virtual wards, these technologies allow staff to deliver safe, effective and efficient care while allowing patients to remain in the comfort of their own homes.

But the value of technology extends beyond any one service. It’s a cultural enabler. By promoting a sense of belonging to a single organisation, ICSs can realise their vision of collective leadership and joined up care.

In this spirit of collaboration, ICSs can share their insights on the use of technology to help level up other ICSs. For example, the latest best practice developed in South West London ICS can be quickly translated across all London ICSs and beyond. In this way, whole regions—indeed, the whole nation—can improve their care.

From survival mode to sustainable modernisation

Microsoft played a vital role during COVID-19. And we’re committed to continue supporting your organisation to transform quickly in an agile, collaborative and people-focussed way.

Truly integrated care can only happen when health and care organisations can collaborate seamlessly. As a strategic partner, we can help you pursue long-term transformation. One based on integration and collaboration. And one that puts people at the centre of everything you do.

Find out more

Data-led foundation for unrivalled patient care

About the author


Umang is a Chief Clinical Information Officer at Microsoft with a passion for ensuring that technology delivers its full potential and value in healthcare. He is also a practising NHS paediatrician and has a background working across multiple sectors covering both payors and providers. Umang was a foundational member of start-up Babylon Health which had a successful IPO in 2021 on the New York Stock Exchange. With Microsoft, Umang is helping shape the digital transformation in health across the UK which is aiming for better outcomes through seamless integration and innovation.