23 April 2019
Much of my role is dedicated to implementing digital innovations.
I’m helping GP practices try new technology and apps to not just save time but improve the quality of time spent with patients. I’m trying interventions with dentists to see if they can seamlessly help patients in ways other than oral health. I’ve shadowed community nurses and matrons to see what they need to keep frail members of society safe and well. I host project scoping meetings with researchers and evaluators to determine what data we need to demonstrate if an innovation is worthwhile implementing or not. The message I bring to the people I meet? Information and technologies are developing in a big way in the NHS – impacting everything we do. You need to be ready for it.
It’s not a statement always cheerfully received. The NHS as a whole does not score highly when it comes to embracing digital technologies. Systems don’t talk to each other, wi-fi doesn’t work, tablets and smartphones are a luxury that can’t be afforded. How are frontline staff expected to get excited about digital health when they can’t get their laptops to work? How did it take until 2019 to start phasing out fax machines? It’s a huge challenge, but one that is finally getting the attention it deserves.
There are a growing number of initiatives to enhance the skills of the NHS workforce to ensure they are able to support strategies illustrated in a number of reports, including the Five Year Forward View and the Long Term Plan. Recently, the Topol Review was published, exploring how to prepare the workforce through education and training to meet the digital challenges ahead. One of the initiatives to come from such research is the NHS Digital Academy, a virtual organisation with a programme designed by Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation and the University of Edinburgh, with international strategic input from Harvard Medical School. It was established based on findings in the Wachter Report, stating that the NHS needs professionals who can drive forward the transformation agenda enabled by informatics and technology. As such, the NHS Digital Academy designed a postgraduate diploma in Digital Health Leadership, delivered by Imperial College London.
As one of the early pioneers of the tech native generations (also known as a millennial), I was curious about the Digital Academy. What skills did it want to nurture? What type of people was it trying to develop? I watched with interest when Cohort 1 applications opened. I casually checked hashtags on Twitter to see what was going on once the course started and who had been lucky enough to get a scholarship. I read articles about it online, from sceptics and supporters alike. When I saw it wasn’t just Chief Information Officers and Chief Clinical Information Officers in the cohort, I started to think of myself not as an observer, but as a suitable candidate.
It was reading more about the modules of the course which really helped me convince myself I should apply for Cohort 2. If you are not familiar, the modules are as so:
Module 1 – Essentials of health systems
Module 2 – Implementing transformational change
Module 3 – Health information systems and technologies
Module 4 – User-centred design and citizen-driven informatics
Module 5 – Decision support, knowledge management and actionable analytics
Module 6 – Leadership and transformational change
In the background, participants are also expected to conduct a workplace project as part of their coursework, which should utilise learning from the course.
I read through the application booklet detailing each module with increasing excitement. It struck me how well suited a participant from an AHSN would be, as the AHSN works with colleagues across the healthcare landscape from commissioners to service providers; automatically placing my role in a strategic place within the wider health, life science and academic landscape. Additionally, Wessex is a key component in the wider digital health landscape having been awarded Local Health and Care Record Exemplar (LHCRE) status, assigned with ambitious information and technology tasks like linking the Dorset Care Record and CHIE (formerly the Hampshire Health Record) and ensuring interoperability. With that in mind and knowing how passionate I am about digital health and the experience I had so far, I decided to apply for Cohort 2, partly feeling the Digital Academy wouldn’t accept me, partly feeling they’d be fools not to.
And so, months later, I sat in front of my laptop biting my nails when the emails were to be sent out either confirming a place or offering commiserations this time around. My Twitter stalking had gone through the roof, I’d read the application booklet over and over because I was so hyped about it, fuelled by too many caffeinated beverages. The stakes were high – not only was this a potentially huge opportunity to supercharge the digital health support that Wessex AHSN could provide, it could prove to be a monumental milestone in my own career. Had NHS Digital Academy seen my potential to be a digital health leader of the future?
Yes, they had.
At the time of writing, I am less than a week away from starting my diploma. My colleagues not just from the AHSN but from service providers, CCGs, STPs and ICSs are keen to hear about what I learn from the initial 3 day residential in Birmingham (I’ve almost finished reading a book about negotiating in preparation for a workshop) and what they can expect me to bring to our projects. I’m delighted that there are other Cohort participants in my patch and have sought them out in person. I am eager to get started and keen to learn not just from our course leaders and lecturers but from the other participants as well. Information and technologies are developing in a big way in the NHS – impacting everything we do. I will be ready for it.
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experiences on the NHS Digital Academy by following her on Twitter:
Find out more about NHS Digital Academy here