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Digitising the NHS: challenge or joy?

By Alex Walter, Managing Partner for Healthcare, O2

Last month my team and I spent two very interesting days at the EHI Live conference in Birmingham. Surrounded by people from across the healthcare industry, from clinicians to heads of hospitals, most of my conversations bore strong similarities: the NHS has been challenged to go paperless, but many people are not yet 100% sure how to achieve it.

Earlier this year, when the £4.2bn funding for the digitisation of the NHS was announced, two thoughts went through my mind. The first was what a great opportunity there is to transform the way we patients experience healthcare; the second was what a joy it could be for NHS employees to feel the same sort of liberation that my team and I felt when we went paperless just over a year ago. It perhaps seems strange to refer to this as a joy, but I firmly believe in giving NHS employees the tools they need to be at the forefront of technology, and the hugely positive impact that paperless working will bring, will genuinely lead to a feeling of joy that will increase morale across the NHS significantly.

However, as much as this funding provides opportunity, the way it is managed, and changes are implemented, is extremely important. Being at EHI Live gave me the opportunity to understand what is going through the minds of many CEOs, CIOs, CCIOs, and Directors of IT of NHS Trusts.

In September Robert Wachter published his report[1] that outlined the challenges the NHS will face, and made the great point that it’s not only about modernising infrastructure, but transforming the way people think and the existing culture.

As very early adopters of new working practices at O2, I believe we should make ourselves openly available to support in the journey of digitisation. Not just with the technologies we deliver but also supporting the softer aspects of cultural change. In partnership with TetraTab we have created the Casebook 3, a device which is perfectly suited to the needs of the healthcare sector. Our O2 WiFi solution, used by many of the UK’s biggest retail brands and with 22 million registered UK users, is also perfectly suited to providing a pervasive NHS WiFi service both for clinical and public use.

But providing a device with secured connectivity is simply a commodity, a tick in a box in some ways, and just the start of the journey. What will make this journey exciting is the wave of innovation that will come on the back of a connected NHS workforce. From time savings to more efficient patient care, reducing staff sickness to increasing staff morale and retention, the opportunities for positive change seem to me to be almost endless.

With the latest formally published sickness rates from NHS Digital being an average of 4.44%[2] across England (nearly double what our own sickness rate is here at O2), and hearing from the Directors of HR at several Trusts that staff vacancy rates are as high as 8-10% currently, increasing staff morale and retention would have a very tangible financial impact.

These benefits, and more, are what O2 wants to help health organisations with. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the digitisation of the NHS so please get in touch with me on twitter @Alex_Walter_O2 or to find out more about O2’s work with the Healthcare sector visit our website.

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/550866/Wachter_Review_Accessible.pdf

[2] http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB17903



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