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26.07.17

NHSE: Trusts must urgently develop leaders to drive digital innovation

The NHS needs to urgently develop leaders to help drive forward the implementation of digital technology in the health service, a leading figure in NHS England has this week warned.

In a statement, NHS England’s associate chief clinical information officer (CCIO) Dr Harpeet Sood said that using digital technology and informatics would be key to fully implementing the Five Year Forward View, which has now reached its halfway point.

The call comes after a number of high-profile failings concerning the NHS’s use of digital technology. Earlier this month, for example, a report by Google DeepMind found that the health service was still the world’s biggest purchaser of the outdated fax machine.

And more significantly, back in May the NHS was hit by one of the biggest cyber-attacks in its history, leaving trusts across the country in “shutdown” and unable to properly administer care.

This led the government to pledge £50m to safeguard NHS digital security, although Dr Soot has today called on trust leaders to step up and guide the way on driving digital innovation.

“Last year, a report commissioned by the secretary of state for health from Robert Wachter, an American clinician-informatician, made recommendations to help accelerate the introduction of health information and communication systems, with a particular focus on engaging and training the workforce, especially clinicians,” Dr Sood argued.

“His review recognised the NHS in England currently lacks clinicians with the necessary skills in healthcare improvement and redesign of care enabled by digital health and informatics.

We need to develop such leaders to help realise the full potential of modern digital technology and avoid the high-profile failures of the past.”

Leaders in this area, who are commonly referred to as CCIOs, will need a wide range of competencies in research, data analytics, leadership and management, as well as a strong understanding of health informatics and the health and care system.

“The new CCIOs will also need a portfolio of data analytical and research skills complementing their clinical skills,” the NHS England lead added. “This will enable them to drive systematic learning across their organisations, so that every member of the workforce routinely uses real-time data and information to inform day-to-day decisions.

“Working closely with patients, carers, and the wider public will ensure that digital technology is firmly embedded in each organisation’s strategic and operational plan for delivering the triple aim of healthcare – better patient outcomes, better patient experience, and affordability.”

Dr Sood argued that this new type of clinical leadership role must be seen as a genuine professional opportunity, sitting alongside more traditional clinical professional roles.

“CCIOs must have enough authority to be able to have an effect across health and care systems. The potential benefits of a well-trained CCIO extend from better direct patient care to an effective and efficient health and care system, better clinical research opportunities, and economic benefit through more effective partnership with industry.”

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