After three years as chair of BCS Health and Care, Andy Kinnear reflects on his time trying to create the infrastructure for the professionalisation of health informatics, while looking towards the challenges that still lie ahead.

We get one go at life, one go at career and one go to be seen by others, to be recognised, to be judged and to be valued.

So far, my “go” at life has been brilliant, filled with adventures, travels, family, friendships and four trips to Wembley to watch the magnificent Crewe Alexandra (three wins and one loss on penalties), so I cannot grumble.

My career “go” has had some major ups too: significant triumphs that brought recognition and rewards for me and my team and, more importantly, major benefits for the public, our patients and our care professionals.  I am incredibly proud of what we have delivered, despite operating in an often chaotic, complex and cash-strapped health and care system.

But 29 years in the NHS has not been without the odd frustration, too. For example, in my opinion and despite our best attempts, the digital narrative remains far too peripheral to the health and care agenda.

Is the tide turning?

Those of us leading the digital agenda within our organisations still sometimes find ourselves on the edge of major strategic conversations, unable to influence a direction or decision in a way that might yield the digital benefits so many other industries have exploited. We are not always seen as the people to be in the right room at the right time.

This tide is beginning to turn, though. Over recent years the growing influence of our flourishing CIO, CCIO and CNIO Networks have helped drive bold pronouncements from the health secretary on digital leadership and strategy; the creation of the high profile NHSX; a renewed focus on the digital opportunity in the NHS Long Term Plan and the increasing clamour for digital leadership at board level from different quarters.

I think we can now begin to assume that CIOs, CCIOs and CNIOs will on the board of our NHS organisations soon. So, the question becomes: how do we ensure they are of the calibre to fulfil their executive duties? And how do we ensure they and their teams meet the standards necessary to assure high quality service? How do we drive the investment, emotional and financial, in the digital family such that we can take our place alongside more established professions?

License to practice

Well, the way our sister professions do this is by having a formal ‘licence to practice’ – by creating a set of professional standards and a professional code of conduct that requires achievement and a level of education to maintain the right to practice.

You cannot be a doctor, a nurse, a care professional of any type, a senior finance professional or a HR director without the right professional qualifications and a commitment to continuing professional development.

This is why I began my mission with the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, to drive forward professionalism in digital health and care.

When I took on the role as chair, it was with one simple purpose, to create the infrastructure for our profession to flourish. By building a collegiate approach amongst those working towards the same goal, I was confident we could collectively create the enthusiasm, energy and action needed for our professional status to become reality, not just ambition. Ultimately, we will get the profession we deserve, so building the infrastructure alone is not enough – it needs everyone to put their shoulder to the wheel and commit. But that is easier when the infrastructure to succeed exists.

Vibrant partnerships

After three years I think the headlines look pretty impressive. We have created a vibrant partnership between five professional bodies, representing the key non-clinical disciplines within digital health and care. They are:

Together we have created the Federation of Informatics Professionals (Fed-IP), which brings individuals and organisations together to establish professional standards in health informatics and maintain a public register of practitioners. In time, this will offer greater confidence to employers, clients, colleagues, government and the wider society, both UK and overseas, that the people they charge with delivering their digital health and care agenda are appropriately qualified or experienced.

On top of that, we have seen the creation of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics (FCI), the multi-professional membership body for all health and social care qualified individuals working as informaticians across the UK.

One key aspect of the professionalism journey is around education. I am really proud that the BCS Health and Care executive has been a driving force in this space, including behind the creation and throughout the journey of the NHS Digital Academy, where we have helped devise curriculum and are currently teaching some elements too.

Looking back and looking ahead

We are making serious headway, folks. We now have the vast majority of the infrastructure to create our profession. It is up to all of us now. As my term of office comes to an end, I am looking back with a huge amount of pride at what we have achieved so far.

But I am also looking forward with excitement to the next chapter in this journey. We now have all the tools we need to create a true profession and whoever gets to follow me into the hotseat will need all your support to turn our opportunity into our reality. Remember, we only get one go and WE will get the profession WE deserve, so let’s make it something of which we can all be proud.

Whilst it has been my honour and privilege to chair the BCS Health and Care Executive, I am very conscious that I have been walking on the shoulders of giants supported by amazing people.

These folks do this work for love and love alone – truly dedicated and inspiring people it has been my great pleasure to lead.

If you think you could follow in Andy’s shoes as the chair of BCS Health and Care – you can apply here.