Dr Masood Ahmed on revolutionising NHS digital healthcare

Guest interview: Dr Masood Ahmed

Highland Marketing’s latest interviewee is a digital leader in the Black Country and West Birmingham. Masood Ahmed says his role is to create the right environment for innovation, which is why he supports the All4Health&Care community that exists to bring healthcare and technology companies together.

Masood Ahmed has had a diverse career; one that has taken him from starting out as a doctor in the NHS, to operating globally in technology and business. After almost a decade away, he felt compelled to return to the health service in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He is now the chief medical officer and chief clinical information officer at NHS Black Country and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group, as well as the clinical technology officer for the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, where he is looking for innovation that can be adopted to address the key challenges that healthcare is facing.

He is also a member of All4Health&Care, a community that grew out of the Tech4CV19 movement to connect NHS leaders with health tech suppliers that could support health and care through the crisis.

Highland Marketing spoke to him about his career path, about the value of having a dedicated space in which NHS and IT innovators can discuss problems and solutions, and about the technology that can help health and care to respond to the challenges ahead.

You trained in London; what has your career pathway been since then?

I initially came to the Midlands to be a surgeon, before exploring other career options across primary care and mental health. After spending time working across the system, I accepted a secondment to the Deanery and joined the team leading on the implementation of the European Working Time Directive.

“It was a hectic time, because I also became chair of negotiators for the British Medical Association Junior Doctors’ Committee. So, I had one foot in the policy camp and another in the delivery and transformation space. This opened-up a whole new world of experience beyond clinical practice, and I was able to take a really good look at the inner mechanics of how a healthcare system operates.

“Following this, I decided to take another jump; this one further outside my comfort zone. I joined a health-tech company as a director. We developed rostering portals for consultants and junior doctors, amongst other digital offerings. When we were acquired by major software player in the NHS, I moved across to lead up the software engineering team.

“After a few years and a few different leadership roles, I joined Dell, initially the UK managing director and then as global medical director. I was fortunate to run initiatives across the world, including in the Middle East, the US, the Far East and the Nordics. This gave me exposure to the payee/provider model, and a different way of doing healthcare; but also made me realise how much I missed serving the NHS.”

So, you found a way back to the health service?

“Yes. It sounds strange but being away from the NHS wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d hoped it would be. I suppose that’s part of the reason I went into medicine initially – to serve my community – and I didn’t feel as if I was doing that.

“After a few years at Dell, I looked to get back into the NHS, and the most natural landing spot was the ever-growing innovation sector. I became the chief digital officer for the Health Innovation Network, and then a senior advisor to UCLPartners and DigitalHealth.London.

“Much of my work was figuring out how to get the best of innovation – and there is definitely a lot out there! – into the NHS and helping patients. When the pandemic hit, however, I had to reconsider my path. Suddenly, there was a more immediate need for digitally savvy healthcare leadership, and the case for change was acutely recognised.

“After reflection, I concluded that the best way of supporting my local population was by joining NHS Black Country and West Birmingham CCG, an organisation commissioning and serving a population of 1.5 million and one of the most diverse and deprived populations in England. So, I took on the roles of CMO and CCIO.

“This was a trial by fire, and within months of starting, we kicked off the biggest programme the NHS has ever had to deliver: the Covid-19 vaccination programme. We delivered on this while juggling the challenges of managing the Covid crisis, navigating winter pressures, and transitioning into the new integrated care system model. And while demonstrating that we could simultaneously expedite the adoption and spread of innovation that could have a real impact on patient benefit.”

Why did you get involved with All4Health&Care?

“Although I’m back in the NHS and slightly more distanced from the innovation scene, I continue to believe that the health sector and the innovation sector should work hand-in-hand. I think there is a real opportunity to strengthen the links and bonds between the two.

“All4Health&Care is about removing barriers and bringing people together: sharing challenges and ideas for solving them, without having an endpoint – like the sale of a product or service – in view.

“It’s also about education. Sustainability is a good example. I didn’t know much about sustainability until I was asked to chair one of our monthly Technology Leaders Forums on the subject. It made me think ‘ok, this is important’, and ‘as the CMO, how can I be a champion for work on this and making sure that suppliers are engaged in pushing this important agenda forward?’

“We tend to drop our heads occasionally in the NHS, because there is so much pressure to deliver every single day. However, we do need space to think about more long-term issues and there’s no doubt that sustainability is one of the long-term issues that cannot continue to sit on the backburner.”

Is there any technology that is really exciting you in your day job?

“AI is a special area of interest for me. It’s so wide ranging, covering predictive tools, smarter imaging, flow management, natural language processing and much more. I’m convinced that within the next few years we will see that AI has a massive part to play within our healthcare system.

“I’m currently taking an MBA with an AI specialism because one of the biggest areas of need within the NHS is technology-enabled executives. But this is another example of how organisations like All4Health&Care can help by connecting us.

“CCG is currently in a dialogue with Richard Jones from the analytics company C2-Ai, to support us in understanding the data that we currently have. We have a wealth of data; the challenge is to understand it and to act on it. We’re hoping that C2-Ai will help us to do that with predictive modelling around how we prioritise elective waiting lists.

“We have also been exploring how we can build capabilities to support patient safety with Clive Flashman, the chief digital officer of the charity Patient Safety Learning. An important aspect of safety is that patients need to know how to make effective use of new services: where to go and what to do. Clive is helping us to think about that. It’s good to be linked into people who can help us deliver real change for patients.”

How do you see the potential for innovation in the NHS?

“For me, my learning in industry meant getting back into the NHS was done with the lens of working out how to use information and technology. How can we use it to solve the challenges that we have? How can we use it to be disruptive?

“I see my role as providing the right environment for innovation to flourish. Alongside my other jobs, I’ve joined the West Midlands AHSN one day a week, because I see them as the champions who remove barriers for innovators in our patch and beyond. We all know that sometimes breaking into the NHS can be tricky to navigate, yet the pandemic has shown how much it needs technology, and that we can use technology to do innovative things at pace.

“That’s why I remain strongly committed to All4Health&Care, and the ideals they champion. It is all about creating a space to discuss problems and a community to solve them. It’s about getting the NHS and technologists together so we can jointly solve the problems that we’re facing: for now, and the future.”

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