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  • April 30, 2021
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In Conversation with Mark Hutchinson, Exec Chief Digital Information Officer at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust.


Running a range of digital and information services from business intelligence to clinical coding, cyber security to medical records – ark and his team operate across hospitals, primary care and GP practices, , across Gloucestershire.  

We spoke to Mark about how his leadership style has changed during COVID-19, the value of having a diverse team and the challenges his team plan on tackling in the future.  

How Do We Look After Each Other? 

Having made a career at the forefront of IT development and being instrumental in many key breakthroughs – like the roll out of the NHS first telemedicine system in 2006, and the delivering first EPR (electronic patient record) at Salford Royal, Bone of England’s most digitally advanced Hospitals – Mark has gotten quite good at getting things done and driving a transformation culture and building teams that share Mark’s passion for innovation.  

Despite that, these have been challenging times and required a shift in leadership mentality.  

“Everybody has had their own challenges. Although we’re not clinical frontline, we support the systems and infrastructure that keep the hospital and clinicians who’ve had a lot of people at home with their children or really long periods of the last 12 months and others that have had to choice but to work on site And that’s been extremely challenging for them. And so, working out how you find a balance between a more traditional approach that’s been about delivery and focusing on clear time scales and timelines, and instead work out how we can just look after one another whilst supporting the teams on the hospital frontline.” 

Implementing a ‘buddy’ system for his team, Mark focused on trying to find ways to encourage people to compensate for the impromptu conversation that was now missing from their day.  

“You no longer bump into someone at the water cooler or the microwave, you no longer get those informal chats where you can escape work for 5 minutes or have a little moan. Instead, you’ve got whole days of back to back Microsoft Teams calls. 

Being part of a family of 8000 people in their trust who are responsible for looking after the health of 700,000 people across Gloucestershire, Is something that Mark and his team have always taken pride in.  But when times get rough, the question becomes about how they can support each other and look after each other. 

“That’s been a really big focus of this last year, in a way that has never never been the case before. Mental health and wellbeing of staff has become a priority 

Leading a Diverse Team 

Creating change in this space would be a difficult task without the firm foundations of a progressive culture that promotes and encourages diverse teams.  

For those who have been following my posts on Linkedin and Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been proactively seeking out advocates for diversity within the NHS. 

For Mark, who relishes a diverse range of experiences and thoughts, this has and continues to be a top priority as he embarks on evermore exciting projects. 

Currently in the middle of delivering electronic patient records Mark and his team are looking at completely changing the way their entire organisation works. To be able to do that Mark need to bring together a diverse team who can provide all parts that this project needs to meet as whole. 

You need people who can get alongside doctors and nurses and build rapport with them and then transpose that into a workflow that you can build in a computer system. And you need people who can install computers and put them out there, you need the geeks who can build the back-end servers and can measure all this stuff works at a phenomenal scale, you need the people who can design your drug labels and test labels for requesting blood tests. It’s a massive team sport. 

Finding a Happy Medium 

Throughout the course of this series, I’ve had the privilege of being able to speak with many leaders across the NHS. One topic that continues to crop up, as it seems to be doing within business in general, is the debate around remote work and centralised location.  

Traditionally, the NHS has worked out of centralised locations with the odd day here and there allowed for homeworking for those who can. With COVID-19 raising question marks over the need for everyone to go into a central location, especially one as important as a hospital, many are fighting to find a ‘happy medium’ for their staff with no impact on productivity. 

“We’ve proved without a doubt, during this period, that we can go live with massive bits of new functionality while the team is distributed. There’s absolutely no reason that we ever need to go back to people being in the office five days a week, but that’s only true for some people. Others don’t want to be at home five days a week and we need to support that too.”  

Some of us are missing a range of “buffer” activities associated with the job. One of these buffers is the commute between home and work, allowing people to gain some distance both physically and mentally. Others are the experiences mentioned previously: casual chats before meetings, coffees, nipping into someone’s office. It is these activities that form a key part of the natural change of pace during the day, that reduce feelings of being overloaded and pad out the intensity of work. 

“We need to find a happy medium. The new shape for lots of people will be two or three days at home, the rest in the office. What’s important is we provide opportunities for people to explore the options that work for them and the rest of the team 

Transforming Frontline Care 

The move from handwritten patient notes to digital notes began in November 2019 and could easily have been pt on hold when the COVID pandemic hit in February 2020. But Mark and the exec team chose to push ahead – a decision that made a huge difference to patient care. Providing electronic access to critical patient information  at the click of a button. Emeaning that an on-call doctor who may be 10 miles away can observe a patient and can call someone on that ward to intervene.  

“We’ve seen this technology really come into its own when the Trust has been challenged with staff availability because of sickness or shielding.” 

The proof, for Mark, was very much in the pudding. As people were forced to adapt almost overnight, the technology was there to support that shift. This certainly helped on the always difficult process of changing behaviours.  

The first lockdown in March 2020 meant sending as many support staff home as possible, and making sure they had the technology to do that. What was scheduled to take Mark and his team 9 months took just 9 days. Now, people using their home PC can connect to all hospital systems, whether they’re in the finance department or working on a ward.  

Future Challenges 

But it’s not all plain sailing as Mark believes the speed at which new solutions have been adopted may present problems when it comes to these solutions sticking around for the long run.  

“Making some of that change stick will be really important if we’re going to imagine care and the use of our hospital sites differently. The next step is using the same technology to allow virtual visiting. So when we have normal winter challenges like outbreaks of flu that we could absolutely look to use technology solutions to keep infection rates down. I’m hopeful that all those things are things that we hold on to and continue to invest in and continue to see value and benefit for patients.” 

As for the future, Mark and his team are looking forward to push technology solutions are far as possible.  

As a digital team, we have a lot to offer in terms of helping reduce admin and to speed up a lot of frontline services. It’s going to be a long road, but the team is ready.” 

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