A digitalisation guru has said that when it comes to transformational change – the focus should be on culture rather than the technology.

Tom Loosemore is working in partnership with NHS Providers to lead the Digital for Boards programme working with trusts across the NHS and his session will be focused on helping place the challenges the NHS faces on digital in the context of wider public sector digitisation experiences.

Speaking at Digital Health’s Autumn Leadership Summit, Loosemore, who is a partner at Public Digital, discussed his observations of digital change in healthcare.

Loosemore admitted that he does not “know much” about healthcare given his background in journalism and central government, but he said he does come with “new perspective”.

He highlighted that when it comes to digital transformation projects, there can be a tendency to focus on technology, but Loosemore stressed that the culture should be addressed first.

“It’s [digital change] not a sprint, its not even a marathon, it’s a relay race where some people will not be there for the whole journey,” he added.

Loosemore concluded his morning keynote in Birmingham by telling the audience to “be bold” but also “be kind” and not burn themselves out while trying to achieve digital change.

‘Sea change’ towards IT

Also speaking in the morning of day one was Professor David Rosser, chief executive at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, who gave the audience an update on the digital programmes underway at the trust, including Babylon’s Ask A&E chat service which has prevented unnecessary hospital visits at a rate of 63%.

He also hinted that an artificial intelligence (AI) system to help identify cancers would be launched soon – replacing the second radiologist reading currently required in the NHS.

On the lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic, Rosser said there has been a “sea change” toward IT and digital in healthcare.

“The centre [national NHS organisations] have become much attuned to the fact that this [digital transformation] is the future and this is the only way out,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, he adds, many local NHS organisation may not have felt the centre truly understood the need for digitisation in the NHS.

Need for innovation

The need for innovation was reiterated by Jenny Thomas, programme director of DigitalHealth.London, who said it was essential to the NHS’s survival – something everyone in the audience agreed with.

Thomas has worked with more than 100 health tech start-ups through the DigitalHealth.London accelerator programme, which she said has a 95% success rate.

Thomas said the key to ensuring success with innovation was focusing on smaller problems first and ensuring staff were well supported when using new technology.

“We have to make the problem small enough until we can start,” she said.

“Most important thing is to help NHS staff to adopt innovation and have those capabilities.”

And her advice to digital leaders looking to foster innovation in their own organisations? Find out the names of the people involved in innovation programmes and work with them, or create your own programme.

“Make it easy for people to find, support and scale digital innovations,” she added.