NHS boards played a “central” role in delivering digital changes that “weren’t necessarily possible” prior to the pandemic, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers has said.

Speaking on the first day of Digital Health Rewired 2021, Saffron Cordery updated the audience on the lessons learned from the organisations Digital Boards Programme.

Cordery said there were three key areas that changed in order to enable the fast spread of technology: pace, purpose, and priority.

“What we’ve seen is that boards have been playing a really central role in enabling their staff to deliver rapid changes during the pandemic, and in a way that wasn’t necessarily possible pre Covid-19,” she said.

“The pandemic has provided boards with a real clarity of purpose, freedom to act at pace and to focus minds on delivering minimum viable services.”

There was also “real necessity” to deliver things at pace from the onset of the pandemic, with autonomy and authority often delegated to enable processes to move quickly, Cordery said.

Trusts described it as “permission to fail forward fast”, she added.

The pandemic also brought a clear purpose with a unifying goal. Cordery spoke of a renewed “mission focus” that was “critical” in delivering technology.

“This has been taking place right across the centre and there’s been a new willingness to accept technology that wasn’t there before,” she said.

“Even something as simple as introducing Microsoft Teams has been absolutely central to keeping staff, patients and service users safe during the pandemic.

“Digital isn’t a siloed thing anymore, it’s really mainstreamed across an organisation.”

Finally, “ruthless” prioritisation of an IT departments projects had to occur in order to enable organisations to implement technology that would solve immediate problems.

“Many focused on far fewer projects than previously, which has really helped them to deliver,” Cordery said.

“Many CIO’s have also reported having unprecedented access to their chief executives, that’s really helped speed up approvals and unblocked problems.

“That’s a fundamental recognition of digital being a strategic issues that requires speedy responses and is key to unlocking some of the really necessary ways of managing the pandemic.”

Cordery told the Digital Health Rewired audience there had been a focus on “empowering” frontline teams to deliver digital changes, with IT teams now better connected with clinical and operational teams.

Teams have been incentivised to focus on “outcomes rather than deliverables” with a greater focus on understanding user needs.

The next step for NHS Providers, and organisations both nationally and locally, now needs to be on how to “lock in” and “build on early success” seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cordery added.

She concluded by saying digital is “everybody’s business”, not just that of the IT and digital teams.

Earlier in the day, the Rewired audience also heard from the creator of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), Grahame Grieve, who said the project is pivoted around empowering the patient.

Digital Health Rewired 2021 is running from 15-19 March and is free for everyone from NHS, public sector, independent providers, charities and education sectors, plus start-ups less than three-years old.

You can book your place here