Three key themes from our event with NHS acute trust innovation leads

The Digital Healthcare Council and our members were recently joined by:

  • Nick Barlow, Chief Digital Transformation Officer at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and 
  • Jim Ritchie, Chief Clinical Information Officer and Consultant Renal Physician at The Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust 

to discuss digital transformation in acute trusts. 

Read on for our three key themes from the discussion.

1. Developing relationships between ICBs and Trusts 

As Integrated Care Systems become more established, their Digital Transformation Boards are likely to become increasingly important. It is expected that a lot of the funding and direction setting at a system level will reside there. The role of provider organisations is likely to become one of influence, problem identification and opportunity description. ICSs have an opportunity to drive large scale change and help scale innovation.

“I defer to my clinical and operational colleagues on the frontline. We try to take a problem-led approach. In an acute system, the problems to be solved come from the providers, and the individual clinical services and clinical leaders within them. I’m hopeful ICSs can help scale innovation.” – Nick Barlow

2. Characteristics of successful innovation projects

We discussed some common themes that have helped make innovation a reality in the NHS:

  • “Hygiene factors” such as regulatory compliance are crucial
  • Helping clinical and operational teams understand how things will work in practice 
  • Taking time to understand concerns that clinicians might have and address these
  • National clinical support for trying something new 
  • A shared understanding of the problem to be solved, with agreement on how you’re going to define and measure that both as a baseline and as an outcome measure

“Clinicians are part of a system, but there are many others in it too. There are operational teams whose roles may be affected by different changes that we make and we need to recognise that too.” – Jim Ritchie

3. Discovering what digital solutions exist

Digital health and care companies are keen for NHS partners to know about their solutions. 

One of our speakers said his organisation tended to look for emerging trends as well as individual companies and individual technologies doing interesting things. His team keep themselves informed about innovative companies that are winning awards, participating in accelerators as well as research published in journals. Their small team also does some horizon scanning. Then when a problem is identified, there are some options that can be explored. 

Identifying problems is key and it is possible to create a single front door for requests within trusts, with a product focused team to assist. 

“It’s also important to consider is this something that we’ve already got capacity to deliver? Can we build this at pace within our existing systems to address a given amount of the need?” – Jim Ritchie

A big thank you to Nick and Jim for sharing their insights with members. We’re hosting more of these sessions in 2023, so get in touch to find out more: