Beverley Bryant, director of digital transformation at NHS Digital, says the organisation needs to undergo a cultural revolution, move away from thinking of programmes “as king”, and become far more responsive to the needs of NHS customers.

She says a change in “mindset” and even “tone of voice” is required from the organisation to enable it to effectively support local NHS trusts, social care providers, CCGs and STPs in achieving their digital aspirations.

The goal she says must be to become a “responsive customer-focused partner of local NHS organisations”, and she argues the establishment of four new regional teams is a vital step in this direction.

In a wide-ranging interview with Digital Health News, Bryant says that too often in the past NHS Digital has been too inward facing and focused on making sure that its statistics were 100% accurate, rather than on whether customers were receiving the data they needed in a timely fashion.

Similarly, requests made by potential partners would sometimes go into a black hole, without any response.

NHS Digital needs to come out of its Leeds offices, she suggests: “The cultural difficulty is delivering on that requires us to be much more customer-focused and closer to the front line. We can’t stay in our offices and in an ivory tower.”

A key part of the cultural change needed will be to rebalance from its historic focus on running big programmes, many of which originated in the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) era. Establishing, managing and running major programmes around core NHS infrastructure and services, including summary care record, N3 and electronic referral service, still dominates much of the make-up of the agency.

“There has been a tendency for everything to be constructed around programmes,” says Bryant. She says these will continue to be hugely important, and integral to NHS Digital, but it must learn to deliver them as business as usual while being much more responsive to local NHS customers.

Achieving such cultural changes will require the organisation to regain its confidence, and Bryant acknowledges that and the subsequent Partridge Review have had an impact on NHS Digital’s morale and subsequent appetite to take risks.

The real future test of success, she suggests, will be for the NHS Digital to effectively support STPs’ digital ambitions and achieve digitally-enabled transformation of the health and care system.