NHS England’s new chief clinical information officer has urged speed to make sure digital maturity is achieved across the board, and said it is “no pipe dream”.

Keith McNeil was speaking at the Healthcare Efficiency Through Technology show in London, shortly after it was announced that he has been appointed to lead a new Digital Delivery Board that will replace the Department of Health’s informatics portfolio management board.

Last week’s NHS operational planning and contracting guidance suggested the DDB will have a major role in reviewing national and local IT projects, and making sure that funding is focused on Sustainability and Transformation Plan projects. NHS Digital will be expected to report to it on delivery, financial forecasts and benefit achievement.

In a keynote speech to HETT, littered with pop culture references, McNeil invoked Bob Dylan when he said the NHS needed to move quickly on IT, and take risks.

“We’re starting to sink, so we’ve got to start swimming pretty quickly, because we all know the challenges that are facing us,” he said. “We can no longer afford to work at the speed of government; it’s too slow, technology leaves us behind.”

Despite this, another theme of McNeil’s speech was the importance of making sure that clinicians on the “shop floor” were involved in deploying technology.

This was also a theme of the Wachter Review of NHS IT that was unveiled at the Health and Social Care Expo in Manchester. This called for the appointment of a national CCIO; the post that McNeil now fills.

At HETT, McNeil was challenged on another outcome of the Wachter Review; the decision to divide NHS trusts into ‘groups’ and to focus funding on two small groups of global and national exemplars.

He was asked whether putting money into trusts that already had a high level of digital maturity level was a good use of resources.

In response, McNeil said: “It’s no good putting technology in a desert” – apparently picking up on Robert Wachter’s conclusion that many trusts lacked the ability to make good use of it.

Despite this, he added that money will be invested in those not doing so well, and said this will be announced shortly.

McNeil is a former transplant specialist who has held a number of senior management jobs. He moved from Australia to become chief executive of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and led the organisation when it implemented the Epic EPR.

The trust’s initial problems with the deployment contributed to its being put into special measures. It is still in special measures; which may be one reason it was not picked as a global digital centre of excellence in the first round of exemplars, as widely expected.