Encouraging diversity in the NHS isn’t simply a matter of inclusion, it’s a matter of patient safety, delegates at the Healthcare Excellence Through Technology (HETT) conference have heard.

Speaking on 2 October, Heather Caudle and Ijeoma Azodo, both members of the Shuri Network, stressed the importance of diversity when developing new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

Without a diverse and inclusive team, “unconscious bias” can be built into technology, ultimately putting patients at risk.

The next step in ensuring inclusive digital health solutions is including technology teams throughout the whole process, Heather Caudle, chief nursing officer at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said.

“In health what we have done really well is developed multidisciplinary teams when looking at the patient,” she told the audience at ExCel London.

“I think our technology colleagues are the next member of our multidisciplinary teams. If you think about AI and these new ways of doing things, how are we including the creators and the developers when thinking about patient care?

“We will have unintended consequences of artificial intelligence that hard-wires things like unconscious biases, that we are only going to treat people that are this age, this weight, this colour, because that’s how we think.

“Having that diversity on the team will help.”

The Shuri Network hopes to tackle these biases by providing black and minority ethnic (BAME) women working in digital health with a platform to propel their career into leadership roles.

Speaking on the aims of the network Ijeoma Azodo, honorary clinical tutor at the University of Edinburgh, said one of the main goals was an environment of trust and safety based on diversity.

“We’re starting with ethnic minority diversity but what we are really looking for is an experience that’s diverse in terms of where people come from, how people think and what people want so we can build and NHS and technology that we use that incorporates all of those facets into our systems,” she said.

“We need an environment of trust and safety. We need everyone from the support workers to the doctors to the IT team to be able to speak up about things we are building that are unsafe, inappropriate and inequitable for our patients.”

By achieving this, the NHS will be able to develop technology that’s inclusive and safe, she explained.

“We want to make sure we aren’t building things that are exclusive, we want to be able to interrogate our systems, we want something that is transparent and we want something that’s accountable.

“That’s the importance of have a diversity inclusive and accessible healthcare workforce.

“Different people on the team have different expertise. If you don’t ask them about the jobs they provide in terms of patient care, if you don’t value that expertise and their presence, we will be in complete shambles when that’s the person who can get you out of trouble.

“Sit down with the tech department and speak to them collaboratively about what’s going to be the best thing to solve that we need done for the patient.”

The Shuri Network was officially launched at Digital Health Summer Schools in July, and aims to develop a more inclusive leadership within the NHS that reflects the diversity of the workforce and support career progression of BAME women.

Digital Health News recently recorded a podcast with founders of the network Dr Shera Chok and Sarah Amani, which you can listen to here.