Digital leaders aim for the stars, but keep boots firmly on the ground

Digital leaders aim for the stars, but keep boots firmly on the ground

“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it,” once said the NHS’ founder, Nye Bevan. The national media paints a very bleak picture of the fight on our hands – financial woes, staff shortages, low morale, inspection failings, and patient safety errors. Have our senior health professionals lost the faith, or are they up for the fight?

For the digital health leaders who gathered for EHI Live this week, there was a clear rallying call for the industry to pull together and deliver the technology solutions that can save our NHS. This was led by NHS Digital’s director of digital transformation, Beverley Bryant who singled out the need to “step up to the challenge and work with NHS Digital and digital leaders to deliver usable healthcare IT.”

Leadership became a constant theme at the event, and Harpreet Sood, senior fellow to the chair and chief executive of NHS England, spoke about developing talent in the future. He announced further details of the NHS Digital Academy, including its presence as a ‘virtual organisation’ – no surprise in today’s digital world. The academy aims to train and develop chief clinical information officers, chief information officers, and other aspirant leaders in IT.

The subject of staff development was addressed by self-proclaimed ‘tweeting nurse’ Annie Cooper from NHS Digital who gave a passionate talk on the need for nurses to be supported in informatics roles; a request that many others working in the NHS would make.

Whilst secondary care seems to get the lion’s share of attention for digital transformation, notable by its prevalence in the recent Wachter Review, it was refreshing to see plenty of discussion and engagement around the role of technology for supporting mental health patients.

Mental health was introduced as a dedicated conference stream by show organisers Informa, to look at how innovation can help address current issues outlined within the Mental Health Five Year Forward View. This will be music to former health minister Norman Lamb’s ears. In the lead up to the show, he recalled his daily fight in the coalition government to keep mental health on Jeremy Hunt’s agenda. He used his keynote address to appeal to delegates on the urgent requirement for healthcare IT to relieve pressure on the system, and support people with mental ill health, through technologies such as apps.

It was therefore encouraging to hear that mental health trusts will be among the next round of ‘national’ exemplars along with community, specialist and ambulance trusts, announced Will Smart, the NHS chief information officer.

It wasn’t just those ‘at the centre’ that were stealing the show. Bryant said “having boots on the ground” in the local health economy was key to achieving a paper-free, interoperable health service. And those on the ground duly responded.

Adrian Byrne, director of informatics at University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, gave an insight into how personal health records can save clinical time as well as improve the patient experience, and should be a serious consideration when localities are looking at integrated care.

David Walliker, chief information officer at Liverpool Women’s Hospital FT and Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospitals Trust, revealed his trust’s plans to invest in a futureproof estate that would see technology to enable clinical transformation, rather than force clinicians to embrace digital transformation.

The event made the plea for technology that was fit for purpose, and technology that supported frontline staff in their day to day activity and improve productivity. Meanwhile, Northern Lincolnshire was in the spotlight for being the victim of a cyber-attack. It was not the first, and will not be the last. This taught us that, despite all the benefits of technology, vigilance is needed for IT security as our hospitals increase their reliance on such systems to manage day-to-day operations.

So whilst the NHS is looking to aim for the stars, they need to stay grounded when it comes to using technology to help safeguard our beloved health service.

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