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  • October 4, 2021
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Discussing Digital Initiatives within the NHS 


It’s no secret that digital transformation is becoming increasingly prevalent within organisations across the country. The NHS is no exception, and is embracing the change, which is revolutionising the way processes of communication, data storage and general medical agendas are conducted within the UK.  

Surprisingly, this innovation of robotics and automation within NHS Trusts has allowed for a more humanised, collaborative way of working, creating opportunities for synergy, and allowing NHS staff to focus less on administrative tasks and more on the thing that matters – the patients.  

We spoke to Chris Richardson, Digital Senior Project Manager at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, who has been contributing towards the shift to digital processes. He discussed his experience in digital projects, including the obstacles he has faced, the benefits of his team’s contributions to the organisation and the effects of COVID on productivity and recruitment.  

Introducing Chris Richardson, Senior Digital Project Manager  

From trying to decipher illegible handwriting to getting involved with RPA projects, Chris has spent his career to date aiding the NHS in becoming a more efficient, automated system. Currently, his team is working on clinical system implementation with the NHS, which includes projects surrounding a maternity electronic patient records (EPR) and electronic prescribing and medicines administration (ePMA).  

Having started his career digitising incident forms and patient records, Chris found his first permanent role in the Environmental Auditing Team, where he audited cleanliness and hygiene standards. From there he joined the Infection Control department as an administrator, where he was able to network with staff from all over the organisation, before joining a digital training and change management team, working with project managers on various enterprises. He then became a project manager himself, and to this day is contributing amazing work.  

Digital Ventures Are Ever Evolving  

Chris told us about his exciting Digital Aspirant Programme which, in collaboration with another neighbouring Community NHS Trust, focuses on the community services provided by both organisations. While his Trust is an integrated acute and community Trust, with a dedicated community division, there are other, more specialist, community-based services within the acute-focused divisions. For example, the Community Paediatric team sits within the Women and Children’s division rather than the Community Division.  

“It’s about engaging with our community division, bringing in improvements with the new technology available, but also not forgetting about the other community services that sit outside of that.” 

It’s been a long journey to migrate each community team from paper patient records to electronic records on SystmOne, and the most recent teams to be digitally converted have benefitted from the experience and knowledge Chris and his team have acquired during this journey. Therefore, one of the key priorities for the Digital Aspirant Programme is to review their previous work and apply their most updated model, whilst also seeking out areas for further digital transformation. An example of this is the implementation of Autoplanner functionality within SystmOne. This enables automatic allocation and scheduling of patient visits, which reduces administrative overhead and cuts down on clinician travel time by creating more efficient routes.  

Another priority of the Digital Aspirant Programme is to promote the use of the Trust’s patient portal for accessing correspondence. For example, by outsourcing the printing of patient correspondence in community services, patients who have signed up to, My Health and Care Record can access their letters and various correspondence electronically. This includes a process that recognises when a letter has not been accessed within a set timescale, in which case a physical letter is posted instead. The Digital Aspirant Programme also involves infrastructure projects, more specifically, projects regarding Wi-Fi improvements to ensure that staff have reliable access to the Trust’s network in all community locations. 

The Exciting World of RPA 

Another significant aspect of the programme is collaborating with RPA projects.  

“I think RPA is very exciting. I think that’s going to be a real game changer, and actually free up a lot of the bits of your job that you might hate doing, because it’s just the repetitive stuff, it doesn’t engage your brain.” 

The benefit of allowing RPA to handle the more tedious tasks is that it allows NHS staff to focus on more “human” elements of their work – tasks that create more job satisfaction and create a more rewarding experience for workers. A proof-of-concept being developed currently is creating a robotic automation process to download attachments from the national e-Referral Service and upload them to the patient’s SystmOne record. By doing so, repetitive tasks are taken out of the hands of staff, allowing them more time to focus on the more productive aspects of their job.  

How Important is Collaboration in Healthcare? 

The collaboration between the two Trusts running the Digital Aspirant Programme has been hugely beneficial, allowing each Trust to focus on certain aspects of the work involved and then learn from each other’s experiences through regular interaction. This collaboration has opened up opportunities for wider, interesting discussions outside of the Digital Aspirant Programme. An example of this is ePMA, where collaboration has provided the opportunity for the two Trusts to discuss their respective projects and learn from each other’s successes and failures.  And where community services share patients across the two Trusts, these discussions have introduced conversations regarding SystmOne and where improvements to the sharing of information can be made.  

“Nothing gets done unless everyone’s pushing towards the same goal, so collaboration is hugely important.” 

Remote Working 

Chris and his team have adopted a hybrid approach to working from home, in which they try to work one day per week in the office or out on community sites, wherever they are required. Weekly team calls are conducted within the Digital Programme Management Office to check in with the team and provide updates on their programme and project progress..  

Despite the flexibility WFH has introduced to staff, it has had its challenges also. One of these challenges is the lack of social opportunities.  

Having a Christmas party over Teams – while you make it work – it’s not quite the same…” 

What Advice Would You Give to Someone on a Similar Career Path?  

Network, network, network. Chris recommends open discussions with peers and colleagues to acquire a wider understanding of what other people are doing, whilst sharing what you’re doing yourself. He also recommends looking out for training opportunities to learn new skills and develop your career.  

In addition to this, don’t allow set backs to get you down. Chris advises keeping your head up, replan, and if you’re in a leadership role, keep motivating your team to continue the work.  

After a career of contributions towards the digital transformation of the NHS, Chris has found his work extremely gratifying, and is thankful for his opportunities to create real change.  

“I think that it’s hugely rewarding to know that you were a part of the making, making people’s lives better and at the end of the day, making the patient’s experience better and their care more effective.” 

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