This week, the CCIO Leaders Network takes two small steps in the development of chief clinical information officers in the NHS, with the launch of a new Vision for CCIOs and 12-point plan.

While the steps are small, the hope is that they will lead to a giant leap forward. And, as such, my mind goes back to the launch of what turned out to be the first, successful attempt to put men on the moon – Apollo 11 in 1969.

Of course, nobody knew at the time that the flight would be successful. US president Richard Nixon, not always the most inspiring of men, had the following words written in case they didn’t make it.

"These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin… are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

"Others will follow, and surely find their way home. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts […for now] there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind."

These words reflect the scale of what was being attempted, and the risks involved. But any project that is worthwhile involves risks, not least for its leadership, should it fail in a very public manner.

Time for the next step

It is now the best part of two years since EHI launched the EHI CCIO Campaign, to encourage NHS organisations to appoint a chief clinical information officer to lead on IT and information projects.

The campaign was an instant success, and has been followed up with the CCIO Leaders Network. This exists to support the CCIOs that are now in place, to encourage further appointments, and to help young clinicians who might want to explore this as a career option.

Like any good movement, the early joiners of the CCIO Leaders Network were of the highest calibre, and collectively made for a very cool, committed, and knowledgeable crowd.

But we needed to take the next step. In October, we asked for your input to a manifesto, a vision statement, a plan for CCIOs.

Invoking the spirit of Martin Luther King in encouraging you to dream, we asked for your ideas and we were staggered by the response.

The CCIO Leaders Network advisory panel, which I chair, has worked hard to distil the ideas into a brief vision document and a practical plan; which I commend to you. I believe them be deliverable and at minimal cost.

Naturally, like Nixon (and there’s a sentence I never expected to write!) I feel a certain amount of anxiety as to how the plan will be received.

I can hear some saying: “Who the heck are these people to think they can tell the NHS what it needs to do?” And it’s a fair question.

I would answer that we are the 2,500 strong, self-generated, self-funded, self-organised, grass roots movement that has grown from nothing; huddled around an online magazine that has become the British health informatics living room, debating chamber, and honest broker.

We are the most successful, fastest growing, health IT clinical engagement project in history. And if we can achieve our goals, we believe the NHS can yet become the world leader in health IT – with all the benefits that will bring for patients, health and care services, and the economy.

To praise or to bury the NHS?

We are also the organisation that can offer a new way forward in the NHS’ search for truth and understanding.

Last year, Robert Francis QC issued his second report on the events at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, and the government responded with the Keogh review of 14 trusts with apparently high mortality ratios, and the Berwick report on safety and quality.

These are important pieces of work. But they have enabled newspapers and commentators to focus unremitting criticism on the NHS.

Whether these reports revolutionise quality of care, or become just more nails in the coffin of the health service as we know it, will be decided over the next few years.

And the outcome will hinge on whether we can make a better fist of measuring quality of care, so we know where improvement is needed, and what best practice looks like.

That means it will turn on the energy and skills of a group of clinicians who are turned on by data and IT, working with the policy makers, managers, IT staff and others responsible for the national projects and electronic patient record systems that will capture and deliver the necessary data.

Over to you…

Whether the vision you have helped us develop requires an obituary shortly after launch or goes on to be a landmark moment in the history of the NHS will depend largely on you.

We need you to promote the vision within your organisation, whether you are working in an acute trust, a mental health trust, a clinical commissioning group, NHS England, the Health and Social Care Information Centre, NICE, the CQC, any other regulator, or any other body with influence.

CCIOs cannot achieve the information revolution on their own. But they will, I hope, provide the critical mass of clinical and IT knowledge to draw together all the strands of the emerging health informatics profession.

Finally, because I like to think that we will be successful, I’d like to conclude with the words that Nixon used when the Apollo 11 crew made it home safely to earth, after spending two and a half hours outside their spacecraft, on the surface of the moon.

“I only hope that all of us… as a result of what you have done, can do our job a little better. We can reach for the stars, just as you have reached so far for the stars.”