IT ‘stretched as thin as it can go’ in many NHS organisations, new national CCIO tells UK e-Health Week conference

Dr Simon Eccles, the new national Chief Clinical Information Officer for Health and Care in England, spoke at the UK e-Health Week conference yesterday (15 May), calling on the entire workforce to recognise the value of digital.


[London, UK] NHS organisations have stretched IT ‘as thin as it can go’ and the system ‘cannot maintain existing processes’, delegates at the UK e-Health Week conference heard yesterday (15 May).

Dr Simon Eccles, the new national Chief Clinical Information Officer (CCIO) for Health and Care in England, said the NHS would need to ‘start taking advantage of the digital revolution’ to support the efficiency gains and benefits needed for a sustainable future.

But for ‘tomorrow’s CCIO’, the digital doctor said that this would not be a ‘digital conversation’, focusing on the importance of ‘cultural change’.

Empowering patients to take control of their health, supporting clinicians to provide better care, integrating services, and creating a research and development platform would help move the NHS towards the space that it would need to be in, Eccles said.

Delegates heard that the Local Health and Care Record Exemplar (LHCRE) programme, expected to be launched shortly, the 43 NHS trusts on track to become Global Digital Exemplars (GDEs) and fast followers, and the new Genomic Medicine Service would underpin system-wide transformation.

But organisation boards would need to understand that digital was a core part of the business and keeping data secure and allowing it to flow across different systems was ‘critical’, Eccles said, pointing out that many organisations were ‘a very long way from that’: 

“As an A&E consultant, I watched discharge summaries being done in a phenomenal hurry at 2, 3 o’clock in the morning, without necessarily the due regard to the quality of the coded data that I would like if they had all the time in the world to undertake that.

“And I think we have a collective responsibility to try and get that right and to help them, as a workforce, understand the importance of it."

The next big challenge to the clinical community would then be breaking down organisational barriers of care and supporting integration, with the help of the LHCRE programme, to underpin the creation of a new ‘ecosystem’ sitting on top of the existing infrastructure, based on ‘interoperable, standardised data’.

“As an industry, we’re currently spending an average of less than 2% of our turnover on IT. In most industries that are as dependent on data as ours, that figure would be near of 10%, and in the financial services it would be over 20%.

“Five [per cent] would be a huge advance on where we are, and because we have been through a really tough period for NHS funding, and quite understandably, everybody has focused hard on efficiency, clinical safety, and frontline facing staff, which I completely get.

“I think we’ve stretched IT as thin as it can go in many organisations. We are using outdated hardware, old versions of software, WannaCry made that very very clear (…).

“We are right at the edge of this, for some organisations, so the catch-up is significant, but so is the gain,” the CCIO concluded.

Related content:

NHS organisations are failing to get basic IT right, says NHS England director

Leontina Postelnicu

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