Supporting the NHS on its digital journey

Prof. Sultan MahmudDirector of Healthcare, BT Enterprise

Professor Sultan Mahmud, Director of Healthcare, BT, reflects on a conference held to mark the inauguration of BT’s Vanguard Innovation Programme. The event was an opportunity for NHS IT leaders, partners, and BT’s healthcare team to discuss some of the big challenges facing the health and care system, and how technology and data can be used to address them. 

Founder of the NHS, Nye Bevan, said: “The NHS will survive as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.” 

I love this quote, because it captures everything that the NHS stands for: the whole community pulling together to support a service with a deep commitment to creating better health outcomes and better lives for all. 

However, the NHS is currently facing one of the most difficult periods in its history. The health and social care system performed heroically during Covid-19, and I can only continue to admire the amazing doctors, nurses, and health professionals who stepped-up during the most challenging time of their careers. 

Yet today there is a massive backlog of elective care, enormous demand on emergency and primary care services. Significant shortfalls in capacity and recruitment are all a spill over from the overworked staff and limited resource and capacity during unprecedented times. 

There’s a growing demand from an ageing population, multi-morbidity and mental health issues; in the fight to address those challenges, I want to emphasise that BT will co-create and innovate with the NHS. We’re already a trusted partner of the NHS and developing technology that is responsible, inclusive, and sustainable is ingrained in everything we do. Our healthcare teams embed data ethics within our propositions, and we securely safeguard patients’ data and privacy - meaning we are in a fantastic position to support our colleagues in the NHS. 

Creating a safe space for innovation

In July I had the privilege of leading a BT conference that started to shape the blueprint for us to help the NHS embed new technologies successfully.

The event was held at BT’s Headquarters at One Braham, London, to mark the inception of our Vanguard Innovation Programme, which will work with leading trusts/networks to co-create solutions that can be scaled across the NHS. As part of the programme, we’re talking to eight of the biggest and leading NHS organisations across the UK and giving them the full support of our resources. We want to understand their challenges, help them to solve these and create safe environments for effective innovation.

Our event brought together expert leaders from the NHS, our partners, and BT’s healthcare team, to discuss those big challenges, how we can use technology and data to address them, and how the vanguard programme will bring those insights to life. 

In the workshops there was an inspiring debate on the future of data in healthcare. We found broad agreement that digital and communications technologies can be powerful tools for positive change, if used correctly and with the right clinical support.  

It’s well known that health and care organisations need electronic patient records that support and don’t burden professionals with workflow automation and decision support tools. We agreed that those records need to integrate with each other and with communications tools so clinicians working in multi-disciplinary teams can truly deliver joined-up care. 

We discussed the benefits of analytic capability, virtual wards, remote monitoring, and personalised advice and care services that will enable patients to move from hospitals to the community and to their own homes keeping them safe at every stage. 

The good news is, that much of this technology already exists. But the message that came through loud and clear is that there is a ‘lack of translation and adoption’. We need to work hard to implement and make best use of the digital tools available as they will only help the future of better care if used and created in the right way with the right clinical personnel. 

We heard time and again that those barriers include inadequate infrastructure, a lack of interoperability, inconsistent deployments, misalignment with workflows and pathways, a lack of digital skills, and the danger of digitally excluding those patients who need us most. 

So, when I say that our BT healthcare team will stand with the NHS in these testing times, I mean that we will devote our skills and resources to help break down those barriers by creating a safe space for innovation for the frontline teams. 

We found broad agreement that digital and communications technologies can be powerful tools for positive change, if used correctly and with the right clinical support.
Professor Sultan MahmudDirector of Healthcare, BT

Co-creating with the NHS

How will we do that? 

Well, the first thing I want to say is that we will do it very differently to the way we have done it before. 

We’ve understood the answer lies with the clinical experts and not the expert businesses.  

Our approach will be to work closely and collaboratively with the NHS. At the conference, I explained that this is a story that we will tell in three parts; 

1) Investment 

Not only have we invested in our Vanguard Innovation Programme, but we have also invested in a Clinical Advisory Board that brings together an expert and respected team of clinicians with decades of experience in frontline healthcare. 

These leading professionals will help us to make sure that our new healthcare solutions meet NHS needs, improve system outcomes, engage clinicians, and work for patients. Ultimately, they are the very challenge that we need to ensure we have the right modus operandi and focus on quality healthcare.

2) Co-creation

The only way that this will work is if we keep things simple, so no two vanguards will work on the same thing. The idea is to share learning and adopt principles and foundations where they will fit. This way we share and grow together building a new community of practice. 

However, we will make sure that the solutions they develop are applicable to the challenges being faced by other organisations and that they will be able to scale to address them.

3) Knowledge transfer

I am committed to making sure that the depth of knowledge that we have in BT, and what we will develop through the Vanguard Innovation Programme, can be transferred to the wider health and care system, for the benefit of all. This isn’t about one organisation becoming the outstanding provider, but one where we offer the population outstanding delivery of care. 

Facing the fight, finding the sunshine

I have spent most of my career working in the NHS, most recently as Chief Innovation, Integration and Research Officer at The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust. 

When I joined BT a year ago, people told me that it was a bold change of direction: that I was jumping from one large organisation to another and setting myself a whole new set of challenges in the process. They were right. 

However, I love a challenge. I also believe that the NHS will face further crises in its current form if it doesn’t start to think and behave differently; and the technology companies that can help and support, need to do the same. 

BT has a long history of supporting the NHS and social care organisations. We put significant spend into R&D and have world class facilities at One Braham, London and at Adastral Park, with our brand-new health innovation centre. 

Our recent conference was open, honest and invigorating; but it was only the beginning of our story. Now, through our Vanguard Innovation Programme we will bring together amazing people, build a community of expertise, offer support and look to transform care in an authentic and supportive manner. We are ready and waiting.  

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