Engaging with digital functions within the NHS

Conversation starter: Tim Hunt, Medical Ed Tech specialist, York Teaching Hospital 

Tim works in a digital role within the NHS. He wanted to discuss ways to create better connections between digital functions within the NHS and external organisations. 

The group discussed how digital functions within the NHS can become isolated, and the frustration they sometimes experience of having good ideas and no way to implement them. Better connections and networks would be a step in the right direction. 

Currently, conferences and networks in the sector tend to cater to specialists rather than functions like digital, so there are limited opportunities to connect. What if there was a way to find your tribe – people working in similar roles? 

Digital is a tiny bit of lots of areas in the NHS. Although digital is high up on the sector’s agenda, the people actually doing the job within services are fairly low down the priority list, often with little influence. The digital aspect of a project is still seen as something to be worried about later on, rather than a fundamental part of planning and strategy. This is because the people making the decisions and having those big boardroom conversations are not necessarily the ones with the knowledge. To embed digital properly will require a cultural shift. 

This impacts on the way new technologies are decided upon and implemented. A lack of grassroots understanding from decision makers can lead to a tendency to ‘play it safe’, stifling innovation. 

We asked – do external providers think ‘payday’ when it comes to the NHS? Does this attitude exist internally too, when we are given a chunk of money to spend? Are we always thinking smart, or letting cultural norms and processes do our thinking for us? 

We discussed the disconnect between the people who have ideas about digital solutions, and those working too hard contemplate solutions. Also, those who do not have access at all. 

Hierarchies within organisations can prevent great ideas from being discovered or put into action. Voices need to be heard, ideally in a safe space. You empower people by listening to them – if you act on people’s suggestions then they will engage with you 

Digital professionals working in the healthcare space need to find ways to connect with each other. Perhaps this will lead to an improved agency and visibility, and more clout when it comes to being heard, both inside and outside the organisation.

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