A guide designed to help trust leaders build on the momentum made during Covid-19 and support NHS boards to lead their organisations into the next stage of digitisation has been published by NHS Providers.

The ‘A new era of digital leadership’ document has been jointly prepared by NHS Providers and Public Digital as part of the new Digital Boards programme and is supported by Health Education England.

It includes a number of board-level case studies as well as key Covid-19 reflections and lessons from other sectors.

It also sets out useful questions for board leaders as they reflect on their own digital leadership. They include:

  • Does the trust have a shared understanding of what ‘digital’ means that goes beyond IT?
  • Can you explain which areas you chose not to focus on in your digital strategy, and how you made these decisions?
  • Does the trust’s leadership take collective responsibility for the digital agenda, as it does for quality and finance?
  • Does the trust have a shared commitment and vision for digitally-enabled health and care across its STP or ICS? Is the trust clear on the system’s investment priorities?
  • Are teams in the trust empowered to experiment with new ways of working, and is the organisation well placed to scale up innovation when it succeeds?

The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: “We know Covid-19 has accelerated digital ways of working across the NHS. Trusts have made huge progress in a relatively short space of time, be it rolling out virtual consultations or adapting existing approaches to support clinical reconfiguration.

“We have also seen discussions about digital issues elevated within NHS board rooms. As we look to the next phase of the Covid-19 response and beyond, trust leaders want to build on their successes, lock in the learning of Covid-19, and sustain their new ways of working.”

The report follows a long-standing campaign to get digital leads into NHS boards. In February 2020, NHSX responded to a letter from the Digital Health Networks letter which campaigned for more CCIOs and CIOs on trust boards.

Matthew Gould and Dr Simon Eccles, chief executive and deputy chief executive of NHSX, agreed that digital transformation is primarily about people and getting that right requires investment.

In particular, on CCIO and CIO representation on every board, they said: “We are now starting the process of defining what good looks like in digital, which will include board-level leadership.

“Your networks need to be fully integrated with the process of creating these standards, and then how we propagate them, including through incorporating the standards in CQC inspections.”