Beverley Bryant, NHS Digital’s outgoing director of digital transformation has called for the contribution of the agency to be fully recognised and valued by its commissioner NHS England.
Speaking to Digital Health News on the day she announced she had taken a new role at suppliers System C and Graphnet, Bryant said “I don’t think NHS Digital always get valued as it should.”
She said the agency needed to learn how “to stick up for itself” and the wider system “needs to understand how difficult some of the things it does are”.
Bryant pointed to the separation of delivery and policy between NHS Digital and NHS England respectively, which has become increasingly blurred over the past couple of years.
The current NHS Digital director and former NHS England director of digital strategy said: “NHS England sets policy and strategy and NHS Digital is primarily responsible for delivery, however, NHS England also, quite understandably, reserve right to intervene in that now and again and weigh in to the delivery agenda. But this does make the system difficult to navigate.”
She added that while overlap made sense on delivery, it should also apply on strategy and policy, where appropriate.
“At the same time NHSE need to accept that NHS Digital has a lot of expertise and a lot to contribute in strategy space, particularly in areas like life sciences.”
She added: “It’s okay to have blurred lines but has to be an equal partnership.”
Bryant pointed to the systems’ response to the Wannacry incident of 12 May as an example of the health service at its best. “On the cyber incident we took a really collegiate approach and pulled together – that doesn’t always translate the other way.”
Bryant confirmed that she would have been keen to take the top job at NHS Digital, “I did apply. I made no secret that I would have been keen to lead NHS Digital, but Sarah Wilkinson has been appointed, and is taking on a really strong team.
“I don’t know Sarah, or her reputation, but I’m really pleased they have given the job to such a capable woman.”
In a March interview with Digital Health News Bryant spoke of the vital need to instil a cultural revolution in NHS Digital, to make it much more responsive to customers and less inward looking.
Asked whether she thought this was now fully underway, she replied: “I do. I think its existential, there are some good people who will drive forward, the culture change is starting and a determination at board level to continue with it.”
She added: “When I moved to NHS Digital they asked me to help achieve change. There had been a recognition by Andy Williams [the former chief executive of NHS Digital] that change was needed.”
Questioned on what she considered to be unfinished business, she said: I’m still really committed to paperless, digital maturity and Paperless 2020 and hope I can now be part of delivering that from the supplier community.”
“The only thing I would have liked to have resolved is the complex governance between NHS Digital, NHS England and Department of Health, NHS Digital does sometimes struggle to shake off a reputation for being difficult.”
“It needs to stick up for itself and the wider system needs to better understand how difficult some of the things it does are, particularly around data and information governance.”