Chris Netherton, M.D.

Leading a digital transformation of the NHS

The new NHS Digital Academy has the potential to accelerate the adoption of new technologies across our healthcare system, and inspire completely new ways of working.

Starting next year, the new NHS Digital Academy programme will aim to train 300 ‘digital leaders’ over a period of three years. The main staff being trained initially will be chief information officers and chief clinical information officers. The overall objective is to form a new generation of leaders who can help to spearhead a digital transformation of the NHS.

The programme has been devised in partnership with Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh and Harvard Medical School. Most of the training content will be delivered online but it will also be backed up by week-long residential sessions and one-to-one mentoring.

I think this is an excellent initiative by the NHS, for a number of reasons.

Rather than conventional case study learning, the core of the training will be based around a live project that delegates will bring with them from their workplace. So this will be ‘real world’ and the new skills delivered through this training will be applied to live operational issues.

It will help to raise professional standards in healthcare informatics and ensure a more consistent approach across the NHS. This will be further helped by the new Federation of Informatics Professionals. As a result, we will see more professionally accredited chief information officers, which will give a better framework for the profession and help to attract more of our brightest young minds to work in this field.

Crucially, the NHS has recognised that this task isn’t solely about technical knowledge. They want to develop the leadership qualities of the people involved, so that they can champion the cause of digital technology in the workplace, inspire those around them with its potential, and put new systems in place that will prove its benefits. Therefore, an important part of the course will be leadership and transformational change.

Over time, it is hoped that the raising of standards will lead to more professionals with a high level of training in healthcare informatics finding places on the boards of health trusts, so that this issue moves higher up the agenda and plays a more integral role in the long-term strategy for healthcare – at a local and national level.

Through my work here at Microtest, I have seen the impact that clinical software systems have had in primary care and how they have transformed the way that all GP practices work. So I am hoping that this new initiative will also help to drive faster adoption of digital technologies in our secondary care system, in particular the adoption of electronic patient records across all our hospitals.

The Academy wants to provide healthcare leaders with the right skills to tackle some of the most challenging problems facing the NHS. Previous experience has shown that the digitisation of secondary care is a particularly tough challenge. But it could provide a massive leap forward for the NHS and help to deliver higher quality, ‘joined up’ healthcare.

I am looking forward to the exciting improvements that the Academy will inspire over the coming years.