Digital Transformation in the NHS: Discussing Female Leadership with Claire Portelli-Gold

How Claire Found Her Calling in Health Tech


When Claire Portelli-Gold first entered the chaotic world of NHS health tech, she left in tears, overwhelmed by the temporary data entry job she had taken. But it soon lit a passion for improving healthcare through technology that has driven her ever since.

Claire did not originally envision a career in the complex domain of electronic patient records (EPRs) and digital transformation. She studied midwifery and worked in housing before becoming a full-time caretaker for her ill father in her mid-20s. When finances forced her back to work, Claire merely sought a job that could fit around her father’s care:

“I took a temp job. I just went to an agency and was like I need something that’s near to my dad, I need it to be flexible.”


Baptism by Fire


The temp agency sent Claire to an overwhelming scene – a mental health trust mid-implementation of a major new EPR system. Claire describes her shocking first day:

“I walked in there and thought, God, this is a strange office environment. There were people running everywhere. It was chaotic. It was hectic and there was a funny little man shouting at everybody.”

Despite crying at lunch from the intense data entry task she was given, Claire stuck it out at her mother’s urging:

“My mum was like, ‘Just give it a week…It fits in with everything the hours are good, you know, it’s right down the road from your dad. Just give it a week.’”


Falling in Love with Health Tech Transformation


Claire quickly moved beyond her initial task into diverse support roles in the EPR implementation that kindled her interest. Within weeks, she recognised the tremendous value of the digital transformation initiative:

“I recognised really, really quickly why we were doing what we were doing. There was this sense that we were changing the way healthcare was going to be delivered to patients.”

Guided by strong project managers, Claire soaked up everything she could about successfully deploying complex EPR systems. Her passion for health tech took off and she began acquiring formal qualifications to support her accelerating career.


Progressing to Leadership Roles


Over the next decade, Claire took on ever larger EPR delivery roles before shifting into senior project and program management positions. She led implementations at acute hospital trusts that required coordination across huge, complex organisations. Claire reflects:

“Things were much more formal in that environment…the clinical risk was more and so when you’ve got acutely ill people in a hospital, then it’s really important that you do things in a certain way.”

Eventually Claire moved beyond direct EPR implementations into larger scale regional health IT change initiatives. This required bringing together multiple systems and stakeholders, giving Claire a wider lens on the art of the possible:

“I started to understand and expand my experience into interoperability…how we’re going to share data between organisations and really starting to understand the real breadth of what’s achievable through digital and data.”


Becoming an Independent Health Tech Consultant


After so much NHS experience under her belt, Claire shifted gears to become an independent consultant. This allowed her to take on an even greater diversity of programs spanning providers, commissioners, and the national health IT bodies. Claire has led projects ranging from EPR selection and complex programme assurance to large scale digital health research initiatives.

But being independent has also meant having “to build your own value” with every new contract and rebuilding connections after life events. Claire reflects:

“As an independent and having been an independent by accident since my early 20s …it’s about staying in work.  I think it was a bit where’s the work and I’ll do it for a long time.”


Navigating Barriers: Anxiety and Imposter Syndrome


Throughout her journey, Claire has grappled with imposter syndrome and severe anxiety about aspects like public speaking. But she has developed practical coping strategies that allowed her to excel nonetheless:

“When that dark cloud of imposter syndrome comes over…check yourself. Is there a reason for this? Is this real? And just draw on that, draw on your experiences.”

Claire stresses the universality of self-doubt and anxiety by sharing how even an accomplished health leader she knew struggled terribly with presenting. She advocates self-disclosure, personalised rituals before anxiety-inducing situations, and above all – kindness and understanding:

“There is a human element to all of this. We’re all human and experiencing emotions makes you human…And it doesn’t stop you being good at your job.”


Perspectives on Leading in Health Tech as a Woman


As a female independent consultant in a male-dominated industry, female mentors have been invaluable to Claire in forging her confident leadership style. But she warns women entering health tech to beware of controlling workplace relationships rooted in misguided loyalty or sell-doubt:

“Don’t undersell yourself in favour of other people…know when it’s the right time to break away from those relationships.”

Instead, Claire advocates that women “be a sponge” – soak up all the knowledge they can from bosses and mentors, but feel empowered to then stand on their own.

While Claire does not consider herself an overly technical leader, she believes conveying key concepts effectively and leveraging human-centred design is more important to advancing health tech than traditional technical skills. Claire explains:

“It’s not always about the technology…You always see that human element to it.”


Claire’s Lasting Impact


In the 20 years since that first day, Claire has risen to become an accomplished independent consultant guiding major health organisations through complex digital transformations. Her journey reveals how health tech leadership requires far more than technical skills. By combining a passion for improving care, perseverance through self-doubt, and skilfully coordinating across the healthcare ecosystem, Claire has made an indelible impact enabling patient-centred technology progress across the NHS. Though she did not expect to enter the field, Claire found and followed her unique calling to bridge the human elements and technical complexities of health IT change. Her leadership journey stands as inspiration that a career in health tech is possible for those who stay curious and open to new pathways unfolding before them.

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