EXCLUSIVE: Implementing digital transformation

Will Smart, CIO, NHS England
Will Smart, CIO, NHS in England

In this, my first blog for the British Journal of Healthcare Computing, I’d like to start by introducing myself.

My name is Will Smart, and I am the Chief Information Officer for Health and Social Care in England. With Keith McNeil, the Chief Clinical Information Officer, it is my role to provide direction for the delivery of digitally enabled services across the health and care system.

My aim for this blog is to tell you how we will be implementing digital transformation across health and care.

Using technology to support patient-centred care

Like you, I firmly believe digital technology creates the opportunity for us to put patients at the centre of healthcare by enabling staff to operate across organisational boundaries, breaking down silos and unifying care delivery between organisations and care settings.

Prior to taking on this position I was the CIO at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. There, I was fortunate to work with a board that was prepared to support and invest in technology to underpin change across all parts of the organisation. We undertook many large and complex IT projects, including the digitisation of 750,000 case-notes at the Royal Free site, and integrating systems following the acquisition of Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals.

But rather than my role being one of ‘discontinuous innovation’ (a new technology applied to solve an existing need in a new way), it often felt like my job was apologising for the operational problems caused by a new project while working hard to address the issues caused by not getting the PR! From conversations with colleagues, that appears to be the experience of most healthcare CIOs!

Identifying Global Digital Exemplars

A lot of work is already underway to bring about digital transformation, including the search for, and establishment of, Global Digital Exemplars (GDE), of which there will be a dedicated zone at UK e-Health Week 2017. Last September NHS England announced it was working with leading acute trusts to develop them into organisations that will be recognised internationally as leading examples in their use of digital technology to support the delivery of health care. We have selected 12 acute trusts that will have access to up to £10m matched central funding and work in partnership with leading overseas healthcare organisations.                                    

The GDE trusts were selected by an international panel, chaired by Professor Robert Wachter, on the basis they have already demonstrated their ability to innovate, using digital technology, and have established relationships with key partners which will enable them to become global leaders.

These trusts will also play a pivotal role in supporting others, as they will not only develop pioneering digitally enabled services, but they will also assist other organisations to become digitally mature.

NHS England is now in the process of selecting mental health trusts as the next tranche of GDEs. Mental health disorders affect 1 in 4 people in the UK; with an estimated cost to the economy of £105bn per year. Digital technology could transform mental health services by making effective interventions available to more people.

These mental health exemplars will receive up to £5m and, like their acute trust colleagues, will be charged with:

  • Becoming digital beacons in the NHS – proving that NHS trusts can be among the most advanced globally.
  • Build the blueprints for those that follow – this is about more than technology, and includes operational and clinical leadership as well as operational maturity.

Once it has been determined who these mental health digital exemplars are it is hoped this initiative will be extended to social and community care and ambulance services.

There is a lot more excellent work I could mention, but I look forward to informing you of our progress as we embark on this exciting journey of digital transformation.