Digital NHS leader talks Covid-19 response and diversity

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The associate director of digital transformation at The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has said the Covid-19 pandemic has “brought about the need for change”.

Minal Patel, who was the 5000th member of the Networks, spoke to Digital Health News about her experiences of working in the NHS during the coronavirus outbreak and the mass roll out of digital services.

“The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has no doubt brought about the need for change,” she said.

“There’s been a rapid acceleration in the adoption of technology, undoubtedly, and although this was already happening at The Hillingdon Hospital, it was at a slower and more cautious pace.

“So, the exciting thing I have been challenged with is rethinking how we deliver services, not only for Covid-19 patients but also other patients, staff and families, in a safe way.”

Keeping the momentum going

During the pandemic, the trust has carried out thousands of virtual consultations via the Attend Anywhere platform as well as deploying hundreds of mobile devices to support remote working and enable virtual visits between patients and their families.

As the NHS moves through the worst of Covid-19, for Minal the next challenge is to keep that momentum for digital services going.

“I guess the key to success, in terms of how we move forward, is to make sure clinicians and patients continue to embrace that new way of working, because we had to deliver so much innovation within a small amount of time,” she said.

“How I did that is by putting digital at the centre of that response and focusing on rolling out the new technologies, not only at pace but also diverting our efforts on transformation where it is needed.”

Having clinicians at the centre of digital transformation, is also a key to success.

Minal said: “We have involved clinicians in every step of the way and right from the beginning they have helped us all the way, from scoping, to building, right all the way to testing.

“We keep them involved and informed and that encourages them to led on design in a safe and efficient way.”

Looking ahead

Looking to the future, Minal said she will next focus on evaluating and building on what the trust has already achieved.

“For the next three months, my focus us going to be around evaluation and really understanding what my constraints are, the barriers, the improvements, what has worked, what hasn’t and how we can further embed the new ways of working,” she said.

“I plan on doing that through patient and staff surveys and building on that feedback.”

Overall, Minal said her experience of Covid-19 has been “difficult to put into words”.

“Seeing the impact and the change that the teams have made through innovation has been really humbling,” she said.

“Through team effort, we’ve really seen a lot of change.”

The need for diversity

Away from coronavirus, Minal is part of the Shuri Network – the first of its kind organisation for black and minority ethnic women in digital health roles.

The importance of diversity in digital health roles is being discussed on a more regular basis and Minal said it is a topic that she has taken a “keen interest” in.

“I definitely think there is more work to do, we need to change the way in which we recruit and change the way in which we present these opportunities, to make it more enticing and attainable for women,” she said.

Minal said she tries to get involved where she can and helps mentor a number of women who she manages.

“For me, how I got to where I am is through a lot of mentorship and leadership from my previous managers and I think that is really key,” she said.

“Having diversity in my role is so important because we all do things differently, we all think in different ways, all come from different backgrounds and experiences which drive how we do our job.”

Looking ahead, Minal said there is still more work to do in terms of diversity.

“I do think that I am one of very few but I also have had amazing women pave the way for me but there is a lot of work that needs to be done to show people that it is possible and that there are networks and there are forums that you can be a part of,” she said.

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