Roundtable: What challenges at the moment are rising from the fast digital progress within the early phases of the pandemic?


The flurry of digital exercise provoked by the primary wave of the pandemic typically concerned selections made in excessive stress, and in a perception that any resolution was merely a cease hole. However nearly two years on, these fast fixes have turn out to be enterprise as standard and imply that downsides to fast digitisation at the moment are being noticed. Digital Well being introduced collectively a small group for a digital roundtable, run in affiliation with Virgin Media Enterprise, to debate that difficult actuality. Claire Learn reviews.

Like colleagues up and down the NHS, Adrian Byrne can simply illustrate simply how swiftly digital options had been applied through the first weeks of the pandemic.

College Hospital Southampton NHS Basis Belief, at which he’s director of IM&T, had perhaps 100 folks utilizing Microsoft Groups earlier than March 2020. Inside days of lockdown being introduced, the answer had been rolled out to 50 occasions that many.

“We went from 100 folks to five,000 folks in a short time,” he remembers. “It was an attention-grabbing interval, with the accelerated deployment of programs.”

These are the form of tales that lend credence to the concept the pandemic has been a catalyst for healthcare digitisation. And they’re tales backed by analysis. A examine from the Centre for Economics and Enterprise Analysis means that, since March 2020, the NHS has made the equal of 4 years of progress on digitisation.

Massive chunks of this progress may have been made early on, and with the expectation that the options being launched had been merely a cease hole. However nearly two years on, these short-term options stay a fixture. And that actuality presents an attention-grabbing query: what are the downsides of such fast digitisation?

It’s a query that was on the centre of a latest Digital Well being roundtable. Held in affiliation with Virgin Media Enterprise, it introduced collectively a small panel of specialists to think about what challenges would possibly now be rising from the fast digital progress made through the early phases of the pandemic.

For Byrne, one of many key points to emerge is how nicely options that had been scaled in a single day now sit with pre-existing setups. “One of many challenges, rolling issues out shortly like that, is you don’t are inclined to take care of the combination aspect of it notably nicely,” he mentioned.

It was some extent with which Steve Grey was in full settlement. In truth, he went additional. “I’m a sceptic as as to if any of the issues which have been spawned because of Covid, and the feeding frenzy of sure issues that got here up within the wake of it, really constituted enhancements,” mentioned Gray, who’s chief info officer at College Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Basis Belief.

“Most of them we had been doing already, and it simply made us shoehorn a few of our prices and a number of our exercise right into a shorter area.”

He expressed explicit considerations concerning the affect of what he referred to as the “fragmentation of working practices”, with some folks working from residence and so distanced from different group members.

“Our scientific colleagues particularly are a lot busier than they had been earlier than, in a very irregular means, that it’s tough to get in entrance of them to do the issues that make these transformational issues occur,” he mentioned.

Briefly, one of many substances most vital to profitable implementation of scientific software program – engagement with the individuals who will use it – has turn out to be as exhausting to come back by as flour was through the first half of 2020.

Stated Graham Walsh, chief scientific info officer, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Basis Belief: “Covid pressured us to undertake expertise as a result of there was no different possibility. Digital clinics had been all we had, and in a means it’s a false adoption – we pressured folks into it, however what we didn’t do essentially is the engagement that we’d have usually accomplished to embed that means of working into clinicians’ lives and folks’s lives.”

“We had no actual person connection,” agreed Tanya Pankhurst, chief scientific info officer at College Hospitals Birmingham NHS Basis Belief. “We have now heaps and plenty of person teams of docs, nurses, sufferers, allied well being professions and so forth. That was all disbanded or went in a short time through the [first part of] pandemic.”

She feared the patient-facing options that had been developed throughout Covid due to this fact “are inclined to go well with people who find themselves already very nicely linked into their healthcare”. In the meantime those that discovered the NHS exhausting to entry pre-pandemic could have discovered issues more durable nonetheless with the elevated shift to digital technique of communication.

Chris Mulgrew, chief scientific info officer at Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Basis Belief, summed up the problem by relating the expertise he’d had throughout a latest clinic. “I used to be asking each affected person whether or not they wished to get entangled with the affected person portal,” he mentioned.

“4 of them had a telephone that might be appropriate with that or had a PC at residence and a few others had no thought do it in any respect. And that doesn’t essentially break up down demographic traces or age traces.”

As Russell Tilsed put it, “if I’m a affected person making an attempt to entry providers by means of a expertise, then that [technology] needs to be straightforward for me to make use of”. That it’s not equally straightforward for all sufferers means some within the NHS have main considerations that fast digitisation has served to additional compound inequalities.

As a marketing consultant psychiatrist at Hertfordshire Partnership College NHS Basis working with folks with neurodevelopmental disabilities, Paul Bradley worries about that inequality in a affected person entry sense. And the organisation’s chief scientific info officer, he at all times worries about disparities between trusts.

“Though there have been nationwide implementations of programs, whether or not they had been adopted, how they had been adopted, how they had been applied [varied across the country],” he identified.

“Video session is a giant a part of that, nevertheless it could possibly be mentioned of distant working, of shared care data.” That meant, he argued, that the hole between large centres which had been already digitally superior pre-pandemic and people organisations that had already been struggling on digitisation has elevated additional nonetheless.

A part of the problem is that the fast calls for of Covid naturally meant long term digital transformation programmes needed to be placed on the backburner. Michael Lumb, who lately retired as a marketing consultant obstetrician and chief scientific info officer at North West Anglia NHS Basis Belief, gave a particular instance.

“We didn’t have a full EHR for our inpatients however there’d been a little bit of growth work happening the yr earlier than the pandemic to permit some scientific noting.

“That was really pushed out very, very quick to all of the medical wards proper at the beginning of the pandemic nevertheless it’s not sustainable in the long run as a result of it’s not able to future growth,” he defined. “Persons are going to need to backtrack from that to go in direction of procuring a fully-featured EHR.”

These are the seen digital challenges which have flowed from the pandemic. However Daniel Ray pointed on the market was additionally an enormous amount of much less distinguished however no much less crucial work that has additionally difficult issues.

“The frequency of alerts which have come out from NCSC [the National Cyber Security Centre] has completely rocketed. So on prime of all of the stuff that the organisation sees – package that’s being rolled out, software growth, and many others – there’s additionally a load of what I name hidden work, thankless work, that’s additionally gone by means of the roof.”

Ray, who’s chief expertise officer at Birmingham Girls’s and Youngsters’s NHS Basis Belief, mentioned his organisation has needed to relaunch obligatory cybersecurity coaching in response. “We additionally took the courageous step that in case you get to some extent the place you’ve not accomplished your cyber coaching we are going to lock your account till you do.”

The elemental query, then, is reconcile persevering with pandemic-related IT points with earlier priorities. Byrne steered the time was proper for organisations to “re-strategise” on digital.

“Covid and the issues that we did [in response] may have affected the methods that we had been implementing, however that doesn’t imply that the previous technique was in any means invalid. We’ve nonetheless acquired fairly a tricky job really when it comes to going ahead and delivering that technique.”

However as groups metal themselves for that mission, Tamara Everington mentioned it was essential to recognise and acknowledge the progress that has been made, each earlier than and through the pandemic.

“I sat down with my chairman and one in all our non-executive administrators in my consulting room, in entrance of my laptop display screen, with the chief nurse for IT. I mentioned: ‘Look, that is how we’re working now,’ and [talked about] how we had been working three years in the past solely on paper,” mentioned the chief scientific info officer, Hampshire Hospitals NHS Basis Belief. “Issues have improved massively.”

Or as Martin McFadyen, head of public sector at Virgin Media Enterprise, put it: “What we’ve got to do, having been by means of a lot within the final 18 months, is replicate on simply how far we’ve got come.”


  • Paul Bradley, chief scientific info officer, Hertfordshire Partnership College NHS Basis Belief
  • Adrian Byrne, director of IM&T, College Hospital Southampton NHS Basis Belief
  • Tamara Everington, chief scientific info officer, Hampshire Hospitals NHS Basis Belief
  • Steve Grey, chief info officer, College Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Basis Belief
  • Michael Lumb, retired marketing consultant obstetrician and chief scientific info officer
  • Martin McFadyen, head of public sector, Virgin Media Enterprise
  • Chris Mulgrew, chief scientific info officer, Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Basis Belief
  • Tanya Pankhurst, chief scientific info officer, College Hospitals Birmingham NHS Basis Belief
  • Daniel Ray, chief expertise officer, Birmingham Girls’s and Youngsters’s NHS Basis Belief
  • Russell Tilsed, senior director – public sector, 8×8
  • Graham Walsh, chief scientific info officer, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Basis Belief

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