Health and Social Care Committee Calls for Central Systems to Ensure Safe Third-Party Health Apps

Following the inquiry into digital transformation in the NHS, the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee has now published its recommendations, which is forward-thinking.

We are pleased to see that the report emphasises the need for a core infrastructure that can effectively deliver safe health apps to the public across the NHS and Social Care. At ORCHA, we have already taken steps in this direction by providing Health App Libraries and Digital Health Formularies to NHS and Social Care organizations, which align with the report’s ambitions.

While progress has been made in some regions of the UK, it is important to acknowledge that universal implementation is still lacking, resulting in inefficiencies and creating disparities between areas. However, we believe that by addressing these challenges, we can overcome the current postcode lottery scenario.

The committee report rightly points out that there is a lack of a systematic and consistent approach to assessing and demonstrating the quality standards of third-party health apps against the Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) by the Department and NHS England. We fully agree that needs improving, as using an unsuitable health product can have a negative impact on people’s well-being and deter them from embracing digital channels in the future.

In line with the report’s recommendations, we have conducted over 24,000 assessments of health apps, and DTAC assessments since its introduction in 2021, enabling us to identify excellent apps that can genuinely enhance an individual’s health and well-being. However, this process has also highlighted that a staggering 80% of health apps on the market do not meet the necessary quality standards.

To address this issue, the committee suggests that the Department and NHS England collaborate to establish a comprehensive accreditation scheme for third-party healthcare apps, alongside the current practice of recommending specific apps on some webpages. Moreover, the scheme should be easily accessible for individuals, enabling them to verify whether a healthcare app they are using or considering is recommended by the NHS.

We have witnessed the positive impact that a health app library, complemented by a well-executed communications campaign, can have. For example:

  • CW+, the official charity of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and a coalition of NHS organisations including Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust, West London NHS Trust and Imperial College, created a Health App Library designed to support children and young people struggling with their mental health, and their families and carers, to access safe, accredited health apps to support them. More information can be found here:
  • Ingeus, the company which delivers the National Diabetes Prevention Programme on behalf of the NHS, use the Lancashire and South Cumbria Health and Care Partnership Health App Library. By building the recommendation of health apps into their care pathway, they have been able to augment the support they give to patients. More information can be found here:

Therefore, we hope that this report will inspire more organizations to recognize the benefits of implementing a safe health app library, which continuously assesses and ensures the security of health apps for patients.

Ideally, as recommended in the report, NHS England should establish centralised systems to manage this infrastructure, promoting greater efficiency and providing universal access to all patients. If such a framework were put in place, we would be delighted to contribute to the development of a comprehensive solution.

For further discussions on establishing the core infrastructure for safe digital health, we invite you to contact us.

You can read the full report at the following link: