Claire Thorpe, Head of Marketing at Isosec reflects on her conference experience this year at Digital Health ReWired, 15-19 March 2021.
I must admit, I didn’t expect that 12 months on from the last conference I attended in person, which was Digital Health ReWired, I’d still be sitting in my home office attending online this year. But, despite the physical distance, I really enjoyed the Digital health ReWired conference last week. There were plenty of connections and conversations being had in the online networking room, lots of really insightful and exciting updates about what’s happened in the past 12 months and what’s to come, as well as a bit of morning and lunchtime yoga thrown in to keep us all energized!
With five full days of talks, case studies and workshops there’s a lot to cover! So here’s a few highlights that got my attention and excited about the here and now, and the future of health tech beyond the pandemic.
Day 1 – Digital at the heart of NHS decision making
On Day one, the focus was on interoperability and the digital response to Covid-19. Saffron Choudhury, CEO of NHS Providers, gave an empowering talk about how digital leaders in the NHS have reported how their digital responses have been driven by a deeper passion for putting the customer first, asking ‘what problem are we trying to solve’, rather than just trying to implement a digital solution to upgrade NHS technical infrastructure. She also spoke about how digital is more than ever at the heart of decision making in the NHS, and that the pandemic has provided health boards with more clarity of purpose, with digital being part of the central conversation, rather than a siloed subject.
During the Interoperability Summit on Day 1 there were a variety of hackathon presentations which showed the real innovation and idea generation happening across the health tech community. One that caught my eye was the InterOPEN identity and staff access hackathon talk. It was great to get an insight into how this area could be approached, looking at digital wallets and how they could be used within the NHS, so that staff could own and control their own identity, with a view to facilitating better remote and mobile working.
Day 2 – Leading with Digital
Day 2 was the Leadership Summit, where we heard from an array of NHS executives within digital leadership roles. It was also a big day for keynotes, from Sarah Wilkinson, CEO of NHS Digital and Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX.
Sarah shared her lessons learned over the past 12 months since the pandemic breakout. The tone overall was that the pandemic had driven clearer decision making, both locally and regionally, which will drive the technical landscape forward for the future.
Matthew Gould commented how NHS leadership could no longer be ‘armchair leaders’ when it came to digital – “you don’t need to be the digital expert, but you’re driving a future where digital is woven into it”. This sentiment highlighted that the biggest change needed was a change in culture and attitude towards digital, rather than simply the change in technology.
Dr Richard Jenkins, CEO, Barnsley NHS Foundation Trust; Interim CEO Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust reflected on how rapid change had shown their leadership team the importance of striking a balance between governance and service need.
“We have done some remarkable things over the past year – including increasing our intensive care unit from 7 beds to 2 beds in two weeks – if we can do that, what else can we do?
Although we need to be careful when we make changes, I think we’re probably too careful normally, and we need to try and make sure the governance and some of the checks and balances are proportionate to the gain.”
Day 3 – up in the clouds
Day 3 saw a focus on cloud and mobile services which, being part of Isosec, I was keen to learn more about at the conference.
Andy Callow, Chief Digital Information Officer from Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, kicked off with showing us the ‘harsh reality’ that the NHS was still dragging its heels in terms of cloud adoption, and he was longing for the day where cloud wasn’t a ‘new subject’ for the NHS.
Since the first cloud policy in the NHS was set in 2013, Andy commented, “as far as I can see, not a lot has happened since then. I look at our onsite data centre as something of a liability, something that weighs upon my shoulders, like a ticking bomb that’s waiting to trip me up.”
Andy is now driving forward a cloud first digital strategy, moving forward with NHSX through an accelerated twelve month programme to ramp up the adoption of cloud for Kettering’s digital infrastructure and services.
The rest of the day was packed with many ‘connected care’ examples from a number of NHS organisations, which demonstrated some great ways of working and initiatives over the past 12 months. There was lots of debate that there are still many barriers in place when it comes to connecting care systems and services, including siloed working, protectionism capacity and capability when it comes to creating a more connected care system.
Day 4 – Winning the tech argument
Day 4 saw the focus on digital transformation, where Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave his keynote address, reflecting on the last 12 months and announcing some initiatives to drive digital health forward.
“I think we have won a big argument about the importance of digital in the NHS – now it is commonplace and everyone can see it. In many ways, every day over the last year has been a session of digital transformation because of this shared experience of fighting the virus, and the vital role that technology has played in the response.”
New waves of funding were announced to enable more NHS organisations to drive their digital adoption – seven trusts will receive up to £6 million over three years and a further 25 will be allocated funding of £250,000 each to develop digital strategies.
What was most interesting to me was hearing the health secretary address the importance of removing barriers to data in the NHS – namely applications that hold the data and don’t share this across other platforms, making data inaccessible to both patients and the NHS itself.
This emphasised the need for a cloud approach to NHS data, and Hancock spoke of the creation of a consistent cloud platform that would see patient data separated from the application layer.
Day 5 – The new normal
The final day of the programme looked at the future of tech in healthcare, including Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. There were some fascinating case studies about this technology already in action.
Ming Tang, Chief Data and Analytics Officer for NHS England and NHS Improvement, shared how the pandemic impacted the need for real-time data and machine learning, in order to roll out services such as the Covid-19 vaccine programme.
“New functionality came in days not weeks, daily stand ups became the norm, learning and responding daily. Working with academic partners such as Oxford University, we developed machine learning using simulators to better understand and look at the impact of the virus. We’ve been able to better understand areas of inequality, in order to improve services in the future.”
The final afternoon sessions looked at the ‘new norm’ for digital in the NHS, and there was very much a sense that the lessons learned over the past 12 months will forever change the approach towards digital within the NHS.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers,said the digital responses over the past 12 months could be grouped into three main categories: ensuring care is safe for service users and staff; equipping the NHS workforce with the right tech to keep staff connected; and efficient use of resources to relieve “exceptional” pressure.
“There’s a real sense that now digital is everybody’s business,” he added.
That’s a wrap
With over 300 speakers over the past week, it was without a doubt a packed agenda full of amazing insights and updates, that has left me feeling inspired and even more motivated in our quest at Isosec to make NHS staff authentication easier and safer in the remote working world we find ourselves in. I wonder where we’ll be in the next 12 months…