EXCLUSIVE: 'Scotland as a leader in digital health and care'

ehealth Scotland
Dr Pieter van de Graaf, eHealth Clinical Strategy Team Leader, Scottish Government

The above may seem ambitious, but it’s exactly the challenge set earlier this month by Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Shona Robison MSP, at a major conference in Edinburgh. It’s a challenge that the Scottish Government is looking forward to meet in close partnership with colleagues across NHS Scotland, local authorities, Third Sector, academia and industry.

The Digital Health and Care Scotland conference, organised by Holyrood Events, saw around 300 delegates from across health and social care sharing and reflecting on achievements to date, exploring current issues and challenges, and discussing future priorities.

The Cabinet Secretary’s message that, in health and social care, like other aspects of everyday life, digital is no longer an ‘add-on’ was recognised by many delegates. Digital is increasingly central to everything we do and every decision we make, whether as a clinician, a carer or a patient.

'Reshaping the IT department'

Several keynote speakers highlighted that our new Digital Health and Care Strategy, which is currently being developed, will make a step-change, from an IT systems-focused approach to a wider digital one with people and data at its core. The importance of such a shift in thinking was also emphasised by Daniel Forslund, Commissioner for Innovation and eHealth at Stockholm County Council in Sweden. He highlighted a number of proactive initiatives that supported the successful implementation of a new eHealth programme in Stockholm including reshaping the ‘IT Department’ into the ‘Business Transformation Department’.

Digital social care will be an equal partner in the new Strategy and it was therefore good to see that sector well represented at the conference. During the event, we sought delegates’ views on our level of ambition, key challenges and opportunities, and have followed this up with a Survey Monkey of all delegates to explore themes in more detail with a view to informing our Strategy development. An early piece of feedback is that delegates agree that our new Strategy – due to be published at the end 2017 – should be ambitious, but achievable.

Finding that balance will be no mean feat. The Cabinet Secretary stated that the new Strategy will recognise the need to keep addressing day-to-day issues that still regularly frustrate those using IT in daily health and care practice.  But at the same time, she put great emphasis on the fact that we should recognise the longer-term potential of scientific and technological developments that may still seem far removed from the workfloor today but may well become daily reality within the timespan of our new Strategy.

'Leadership and cultural change are key'

A key theme from the event was that the successful delivery of digital transformation demands a clear focus on change management. Leadership, skills, and cultural change are absolutely central throughout the journey to our new way of working. This was evident for instance in the presentation from Christopher Wroath, Digital Director at NHS Education Scotland, who gave a good example of cultural change in NHSS staff actively shaping and successfully utilising Turas, its new digital training platform.  

We’re already committed to supporting leadership, skills and culture change in Scotland with our ongoing Technology Enabled Workforce Programme and the leadership programme for Nurses, Midwives and Allied Health Professionals (NMAHPs) who make up 70% of the NHS Scotland workforce, but it’s a core aspect for us to strengthen going forward. This is exactly why the Cabinet Secretary announced the creation of the post of national Chief Clinical Information Officer for Scotland, to provide essential strategic leadership in digital health and care.

The stimulating conference gave us some useful perspectives as we continue to shape our new Strategy. On that topic, we will shortly be seeking further views to inform the discussion. If you’d like to take part, we’d welcome your involvement! You can get ready by following us on Twitter @ehHealthScotland #GetDigitalHSC or email us at eHealth_Communications@gov.scot