Matthew Swindells

The newly appointed head of BCS Health has called for informaticians to "step up to the plate" and lead change within the NHS.

Speaking at a press conference at the Health Informatics Congress 2010 in Birmingham, Matthew Swindells said one reason it is taking time for IT to be adopted in healthcare is that informaticians have failed to make the case for it.

He said there has been "a failure of informaticians to demonstrate the solutions and a failure of the leadership to make greater demands on informaticians to show that they are part of the solution."

Swindells, a former acting chief information officer at the Department of Health, added: “Everyone has got locked into this slightly depressing idea that failure of IT in the NHS is failure to implement a PAS system in a hospital, when it could be about so much more.”

Swindells called for informaticians to “step up to the plate” following the election to make sure they are part of transforming the NHS, which is likely to face severe financial constraints whichever party takes power.

He added: “The idea efficiency savings can be done without technology is bizarre. This is a big moment for the informatics community to really stand out.”

Swindells, who initiated an influential review of NHS IT during his time at the DH, and who now leads Tribal’s health practice, also said more patient-centered healthcare is inevitable.

Referring to proposed plans by politicians to use commercial companies such as Microsoft or Google to provide online access to patient records, he said: “I don’t think it has to be a state owned portal.

"But if the informatics professionals in health do not move on this quickly it will just happen without them.

“If you look at how we got hospital mortality data out there, it’s because Dr Foster just published it. Now, around ten years on, the DH has finally started doing it. They probably wouldn’t have had it not been for Dr Foster.”

He added that he “hoped” that the public would start to demand information and that change would happen so "quickly" that it would make the government and the BCS “nervous” about how to deliver.

He added that if there was public pressure to go for a commercial solution, the BCS would encourage people to make informed decisions – but would not say that it was wrong.

He added: “There is only one way to keep data completely safe, you write one copy of it down, give it to the patient and say ‘burn it, eat it or keep it secure.’

"No IT system is perfectly secure, NASA had its computer system hacked and so did the Pentagon. The NHS needs to understand that it is not completely unique.”