September 11, 2017 in My thoughts

NHS Digital Academy launch and panel discussion

I’m delighted to be at the launch of the NHS Digital Academy. Below is my reflection on some of the key points and then you’ll find my curation of the tweets that tells the story of the launch through the tweets of the participants.

Speakers: Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham – Director, Imperial College’s Institute of Global Health Innovation ; Rachel Dunscombe – CEO, NHS Digital Academy ; Professor Keith McNeil – Chief Clinical Information Officer, NHS England ; Will Smart – Chief information Officer, NHS England ; Dr. Harpreet Sood – NHS Digital Academy Programme Lead and NHS England’s Associate Chief Clinical Information Officer, NHS Digital Academy Programme; Nicki Latham, Dr Sam Barclay, Mr Steven Doherty.

For more information:  @NHSDigAcademy

Harpreet Sood gets us underway, directing questions at the panel. Keith McNeil starts by explaining the background to the Digital Academy, saying that digital is great but it is only as good as the people who use it and the data we put in. To really drive the NHS transformation agenda, we need people on the ground who have the digital skills as well as the transformational leadership skills. Will Smart talked about what we need to do to get to the stage where the professionalism of our leaders is truly recognised. Lord Darzi described the Digital Academy as one of the most exciting pieces of work that NHS Digital has undertaken and digital is the only game in town, so this is very exciting. Hoping that, in partnership, we will increase the value of the community of CCIOs and CIOs (something that requires excellent collaboration). Working with outstanding academic institutions and having the most talented CIO in the country (Rachel Dunscombe) makes this a great partnership. This will have a huge impact globally. One of the big challenges with informatics is always implementation, and the Digital Academy will equip leaders to drive this. Nicki Latham explained that the Academy is not just about developing the current set of CCIOs and CIOs, but is also about developing a pipeline of talent by enabling those aspiring to those roles. As well as delivery, the importance of working with (and influencing Boards) to understand how to make the most of technology was stressed. We must challenge the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ mentality and be prepared to do things really differently.

Lord Darzi talked about the initial emphasis on the CCIO and CIO community to start with, but with a desire to expand more widely (and to become sustainable). Keith McNeil expressed it very directly; The iPhone has been around for years and we’re still using fax machines in the NHS; we all need to get our act together and make the most of the tools available. We need to get started, and then capitalise on the evidence and embed these new ways of working.

Whilst there was lots of talk about future leaders, Will Smart stressed the importance of technical staff (and balancing strategy and vision with strong delivery and technical skills) whilst Nicki Latham was clear on the need to ensure that the Academy isn’t just focused on the future workforce, but helps us make the most of what we already have.

Lord Darzi saw the positives in being slightly behind the curve, pointing out that there are major disruptions in science alongside major disruptions in industry; we might have lagged behind for a while, but this could work to our advantage and allow us to leap forward.

We then have a quick change of panel, and Rachel Dunscombe opens by telling us what the Academy is so important;  At Salford Royal, leadership has been crucial along with the visibility of digital at a board level, forming part of the strategic debate. Some of the guiding principles of the Academy: people before technology, people will be learning by doing. The programme is really exciting. As CCIO of Salford and Pennine Acute, Rachel knows how demanding the role is, and the Academy needs to work hard to be an asset not a burden to CCIOs and CIOs. The aim of this programme is to take no more than 5 hours/week, and will make big use of e-learning and working on workplace projects. Whilst some things will be done by e-learning, some things will be done face-to-face. An essential part of building a profession will be building really strong cohorts and the collaboration throughout this programme (including things such as action learning sets) will create a strong community.

Sam Barclay spoke of his desire to have a research discipline so that we focus on the outcomes/benfefits of change, and review and learn so that we build a stong evidence base that will enable us to drive successful change. Training, accountability, and assesment forms a major part of Sam’s role as a registrar. Now that Sam has Informatics responsibilities, he wants to have that same rigour to apply to his CCIO role and wants to be able to answer the question ‘what is the curriculum for being a CCIO?’.  Steven Doherty did his Masters in information leadership in 2012 and spoke of the importance of equipping people with the knowledge to do their job; this knowledge is much-needed and the academy will equip next-gen leaders about wider system leadership (which will help them to nurture and harness innovation for the good of the NHS).

Rachel then gave more information about what the Academy will provide; the programme includes leadership, programme manegement, the use of data. It will give you everything you need to be an effective CCIO or CIO. This isn’t just about any one profession and will also include primary care, social care, and mental health services. The peer-to-peer learning will be an essential part of what will be an incredibly vibrant programme that will enable participants to drive digital-enabled change. This is really different,. and nothing like any other programme. The programme is anticipated to take 3-5 hours/week plus 3 weeks of residential study (3 x 1-week during week-time) with an option to do further study to get an additional qualification.

Steven Doherty pointed out that we’re moving away from a cost-containment approach to digital (with digital reporting via the CFO), and that the Academy is a great step in equipping digital leaders to step up and engage with Boards (and recommended reading ‘The second machine age‘ if people wanted some reading about the implications/opportunities of AI). The programme won’t initially include people from the private sector, but this might well happen in the future.

Rachel’s closing words: “This is a revolutionary programme and will do things differently. I encourage everybody to embrace it.”

I also had the opportunity to ask Rachel a few questions about the NHS Digital Academy:

This was live-blogged during a session at NHS Expo 2017 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of the highlights for me but my own bias, views – and the odd typo – might well creep in. I’ve also curated the story of the session as told through the tweets of the attendees (you might need to tap ‘load more tweets’ to see the full story):


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