Diversity and inclusion must be “at the centre and core” of NHSX and digital leadership across the country, the national chief information officer has said.

Speaking at Connect 2020 Sonia Patel told audience members diversity had to be at the core of the service offered to patients to reduce health inequalities.

Patel, who is a member of the Shuri Network the first network for black and minority ethnic women in digital health, said she was working with allies to “stretch our thinking” about the way NHSX considers diversity.

“Running throughout the streams of work that I am working on at the moment is making sure diversity and inclusion is at the centre and core, both with within NHSX but also within the leadership talent that we are looking at in the CIO space and more broadly across CCIOs and CNIOs,” she said.

“And also making sure that diversity and inclusion is at the core of the service offer that we wish to provide our citizens and patients as well.

“There are some colleagues at NHSX who are very busy on digital inclusion, particularly around ensuring we’re not creating a further divide around health inequalities as we progress into greater use of digital channels.”

She added that over the coming months there would be more guidance available to support individual organisations to become more inclusive and diverse.

Patel, who took up the role of NHSX CIO in the summer, also highlighted the need for the organisation to set out “what good looks like” – a promise NHSX launched on in July 2019.

She reassured that work is “underway” adding that the organisation had approached Treasury for funding to help organisations “level up”.

“I’m really passionate about ensuring that we level up provider organisations across the country,” she said.

“We do need to get all organisations to a level of operating standards around digital so we can share in the bigger changes and opportunities that system development bring.”

This includes “suring up leadership and skills to create the right environment and conditions for digital”.

Currently only about 25% of CIOs have a board-level positions, according to Patel.

“I am clear that every board needs to have technical expertise at the table. That can vary from CIOs, CCIOs and CNIOs… without that it is going to be difficult to get to the place where we want boards to own the digital agenda,” she said.

Patel was a keynote speaker at this year’s Virtual Digital Health Summer School, where she spoke about the need for leaders to continue their use of digital after the Covid-19 pandemic.