Professor Joe McDonald closed the Digital Health Summer Schools 2018, declaring them ‘the best ever’, and few who attended would disagree.

Over three days some 400 health IT leaders from across the UK and Ireland took part in a dedicated Hack Day, multiple conference tracks and workshops, three site visits, and a collaborathon events. Attendees even had a chance to take off in a virtual reality Space Bus.

The Summer Schools, held at the University of Birmingham, included a new dedicated track for Future Digital Leaders and the first ever mid-week NHS Hackday, targeting participation from NHS development teams and start-ups.

National keynotes included Dr Simon Eccles, NHS CCIO and Ali Parsa, CEO of high-profile digital health disruptor Babylon Health. Meanwhile, Professor Bob Wachter provided the international keynote by video.

Digital Health Summer Schools 2018: Day 1

Summer Schools 2018 was opened by Joe McDonald, Bob Wachter, NHS England CCIO, Dr Simon Eccles, and Rachel Dunscombe, CEO of the NHS Digital Academy, who discussed progress on NHS digitisation.

Delegates heard that the digitisation of the NHS was reaching a tipping point, but that a renewed focus on interoperability was required.

Three years on from the Newcastle Declaration developed at the 2015 CCIO Summer School, much had been achieved but more remained to be done around interoperability and removing barriers to data-sharing.

Bob Wachter suggested that the benefits of the digitisation in healthcare – which had initially proved elusive – were now beginning to be seen and would increasingly prove transformational. He told delegates that he was starting to be accused of “becoming more cheerful” about the digitisation of healthcare.

The morning’s plenary was followed by break-out sessions, and a third of delegates bussed off to the afternoon site visits to University Hospital Birmingham, Birmingham and Solihull Mental health NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham CCG.

As if this wasn’t enough, delegates had a chance to experience being launched to the International Space Station aboard the virtual reality Space Ascent bus that Samsung brought with them.

The workshops back at the University centred on the theme of innovation and disruption in digital health, and included sessions on user experience and design, patient benefits of data liquidity, empowering the patient, and exploring clinical messaging apps and lessons from early GDE blueprints

The need to offer a viable, healthcare-compliant replacement to WhatsApp was a key focus of the session, Whatsapp Doc?

A new session on next wave disruptive technologies explored machine learning, augmented intelligence and natural language speech recognition, with a series of supplier presentations. Delegates heard of their potential as tools for freeing up more time for clinicians.

Day one also saw the winners of the Summer Schools Hack Day voted by delegates in a knife-edge live online vote. The award went to ‘Doneocracy’, for a project to replace the Medical Interoperability Gateway with GP Connect. Doneocracy just beat a team behind ‘NHS Choice on Call: Tackling Digital Exclusion’, which using APIs took NHS Choices data and made it voice searchable, enabling easier access for people who are not digital natives.

The night ended with the new Digital Health Awards.

Phillipa Winter, chief information officer at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, was declared CIO of the Year at the 2018 Digital Health Summer Schools.

In addition to Winters, winners this year included Jackie Murphy, interim chief nurse at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, and Ella Worsdale, head of information at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust.

Digital Health Summer Schools 2018: Day 2

Day Two of Digital Health Summer Schools 2018 opened with a keynote from mercurial Babylon Health CEO, Ali Parsa.

The importance of delivering new digital tools that met the needs of patients, and giving individuals the freedom to move away from traditional patient-doctor interactions, were among some of the themes discussed.

The afternoon was given over to break-out sessions for the individual networks, with dedicated tracks for the CCIO, CIO, and CNIO Networks. In addition, new tracks were added on the future of Digital Primary Care, Research into Practice and day two of Future Digital Leaders.

Finding a new GPSoC model that could support initiatives such as GP Connect, SNOMED, and GP data services – as well as large-scale projects led by by GDEs, STPs and LHCREs, was regarded as paramount to future-proofing general practice.

This theme was echoed in a later workshop led by Digital Health’s CIO Network, with an IT leader from the north of the country arguing that the NHS needed to start considering both short and long-term technical requirements – potentially up to 10 years into the future.

A COO of a leading healthcare supplier suggested that the UK lacked people in executive roles who could deliver on action to make change happen.

Meanwhile, a later CNIO track explored some of the challenges faced by nursing staff around the adoption of new technologies.

A lead nurse from the east of England proposed that the career framework for nursing staff should be modelled around informatics and that targeting individuals with adept digital skills should become a priority in recruitment efforts.

A fellow CNIO from London stressed the importance of bringing IT decision-makers onto the wards so that they could understand the specific requirements of frontline staff.

Many Summer School delegates took to Twitter to share their experiences of this year’s event.

Shauna McMahon, chief of IM&T at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “What an inspiring 2 days at digital health summer school. The calibre of presentations and sharing was the best yet. Role models were recognized by their peers for their leadership. The CEO of Babylon was truly an example of digital transformation. DHSS is a must!”

Andy Kinnear, director of digital transformation at NHS South, Central and West Commissioning Support Unit and winner of Digital Health’s Outstanding Contribution to the Profession Award, agreed, tweeting: “Well that was just about as good as it gets peeps. Absolutely fabulous Summer Schools, congrats to the Digital Health team for slick organisation & muchos respectos to everyone who spoke, you really are quite a talented band….and we are seriously starting to grow now!”