Leading Digital Transformation in Health and Care for Scotland. A reflective account from the launch event, by Tracey Shaw, Community Team Lead Physiotherapist.

I am a community team leader for physiotherapy in the Integrated Community Support Team in Cambuslang / Rutherglen.  This team is part of an integrated Health and Social Care service involving both NHS Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire Council under the banner of the South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership.

Since reading about them in my granny’s ‘Reader’s Digest’ at 11 years old, I longed to be a physiotherapist.  When I reached secondary school, computers had only just arrived, I remember playing Pac-man on the school’s only computer. 

My classmates and I very quickly found out how to ‘hack’ the lines of programming so that the ghosts and Pac-man changed colour or moved faster or more slowly.  I told myself that if physiotherapy didn’t work out, I would be a ‘hacker’!

Since then I have had an interest in both physiotherapy and digital. 

NMAHP Digital Leadership Programme

The NMAHP Digital Leadership Programme was an excellent way to develop my knowledge and skills in quality improvement and leadership with a focus on digital.  I was in cohort 14.  During the course we heard from Lesley Holdsworth, Clinical Lead for Digital Health and Care, that the Scottish Government were funding a new Masters level course in Digital Transformation and it was like a fire had been lit under me.  I kept a watchful eye and in due course, I received an email for ‘Scotland’s first Digital Transformation in Health and Social Care Postgraduate Programme’.  My application was accepted!  The course will be delivered online from 10 April 2023. 

Leading Digital Transformation in Health and Care for Scotland

Pre Course Networking Event

The pre-course Networking event at the Playfair Library at Edinburgh University on 21 March 2023 was exciting and inspiring from start to finish. 

Edinburgh University’s Playfair library is beautiful and is accessed via a staircase which in the words of the lovely chap at the door “looks like the Hogwarts staircase but don’t worry – it doesn’t move”! 

There was plenty of time in the morning and throughout the day for meeting and networking with our peers, the University team and current leaders in digital health and care from the UK and around Europe.  My impostor syndrome kicked in but I was enjoying myself and decided to ignore it. 

Panel discussion

First there was a Panel discussion: ‘Why Scotland needs digital leaders in Health and Care now’.  It was chaired by Stephen Gallagher, Director of Digital Health and Care, Scottish Government.  The panel members were: Caroline Lamb, Director General, Health & Social Care at Scottish Government and Chief Executive of NHS Scotland; Professor Sir Aziz Sheikh, Director of the Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh; and Dr Louise Schaper, CEO, Australian Institute of Digital Health. 

They discussed why now is the right time for digital transformation in the health and social care system.  We have a great NHS, a benchmark but we have to reinvent.  Due to medical advancements and standards of care, people are now living with multiple long term conditions over decades.  The need remains for continued improvement of prevention and self-management.

The Panel said digital tools and data are powerful.  Developing our workforce with these is fundamental.  There are workforce issues around the world which are not going away.   It’s not about training or importing more skilled clinicians.  We need to do things differently.  To evolve and respond to a digital society.

Some of the nuggets I picked up during the session were:

“Digital should be a disruptor – don’t digitise old-fashioned processes”

 “The seeds of the future are present today – there is already inspirational practice happening.  For example, looking internationally – a fully digital hospital in Saudi Arabia.  Integrated health on the USA’s West Coast: they ‘Beam in’ cardiology consultants – no referral and waits but in real time.  In the Western Isles of Scotland – AI cardiology scans.  Also in Scotland, innovations around digital dermatology and diabetes.”

“Clinicians do embrace change.  They want to help the people and communities they care about and are motivated by this….They will stop at nothing to change practice and get the job done”

During the pandemic, people were able to crack through information governance barriers.  We had daily statistics, estimates for severity of virus strains – all from real time data.  The information was powerful, clinicians and the public were hungry for it.  That has ‘inevitably’ slid back a bit.  We had blanket permissions but now need to negotiate permissions.  Lives are being lost as we can’t get data in real time.

The panel reminded us that digital is not a panacea but important enabler.  CHOICE must be fundamental – don’t force this on people.  Maybe surprisingly to some people, most patients want clinicians to know everything about them.

From the panel discussion we learned that we will need to show passion.  To be evangelists even if outside our comfort zone.  It’s infectious!  We will be able to impact at scale with the ripple effect.  Tell a story, painting a vision to commissioners, to ultimately deliver. 

After the panel discussion we heard from Dr Lynne Douglas, CEO of Bield Housing and Care, that housing has a significant role in improving public health.  This is before NHS/patient interfaces and statutory providers. They are advocating for digital Inclusion.  Bield are asking their elderly housing residents – What do you want?  What’s important to you? 

Joanna McDonald Depute Chief Social Work Adviser at the Scottish Government asked how we bring our life, with its ubiquitous use of technology, into our work.  The importance of sharing information cannot be overstated.  Social Workers spend 60-80% of their time at a computer but these records are not shared.  She encouraged us to bring the digital attitude to work as we already have at home. 

Peter Lock, Director, Consulting, Deloitte MCS Ltd spoke about Health and Social Care working in partnership with the private sector.  The private sector are well ahead of the NHS in technology and digital.  For innovation, digital or AI, the technology side is 5% of it; the other 95% is business, numbers, data and rounded knowledge is needed.   He recommends pragmatism about working with the private sector. 

Dr Andrew Winter, Chair, NHS Boards Digital Leads Group (Health):  spoke about telling a compelling story so that those who will fund digital transformation, can buy into it.  As an example of keeping things simple Dr Winter described his work with the NHS Vaccine App and that there was constant pressure to make it more complicated. 

With this course we will learn how to describe the future state in a tangible way to get people on board.

European perspectives

We listened to presentations from Finland, Estonia, Holland and Catalonia: European perspectives on digital, current practice, lessons learned and future plans.  Blind spots to watch out for, from hard won experience. 

Later in the afternoon we were reassured about all the support available to us – from the University, from our employers and mentors, as well as from our peer group.  This will be pivotal in helping us succeed at learning while working.  We were given the outline of the course structure and how to access the online learning via Edinburgh University’s new Learn Ultra System. 

Peer groups and relationships

We are encouraged to build relationships with our executive sponsors, demonstrating the impact of our learning, so we can filter it down, enabling our colleagues and providing tangible benefits to our organisations. 

We met our allocated peer groups of 6 or 7 students and discussed;

What have we learned today? 

What does digital leadership mean to us? 

We were asked to give our group a name and encouraged to connect and get to know each other so we could support each other’s learning journey.  By the time we left after dinner, Microsoft Teams channels and Whatsapp groups were created. 

Now is the time for Allied Health Professionals and everyone in the NHS, in care, and in housing to embrace the power and opportunities that digital transformation can present.   To ensure digital inclusion and choice are built in from the foundations.  It is essential to see and live the vision: patients and their data at the centre and health and care systems working around and for each individual.

Being a student again is exciting and the Digital Transformation in Health and Social Care programme, online via Edinburgh University, is an opportunity I feel privileged and thankful for.  What a wonderful start to the programme!


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