NHS Digital’s chief nurse has said she wants to help make sure “the clinical voice is embedded within everything that is happening with digital”.

It was announced in June 2021 that Jo Dickson would be joining NHS Digital after previously holding roles at Nuffield Health and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

Speaking to Digital Health News for the first time since she joined NHS Digital, Dickson said the new role has been “interesting” as well as “challenging”, both of which are good things for her.

When asked about what issues she is hoping to tackle, Dickson said she wants to help ensure “the clinical voice is embedded within everything that is happening with digital”.

“We are in what I think is a really fortunate position as clinical informaticians, in that we are that bridge between our clinical colleagues and clinical teams who are at the front line and our technology colleagues,” she added.

“So that’s still for me, a really important thing to have is that bridge between the two.

“But we are not just the bridge between those two groups – I really see us as bridges between organisations as well – such as the regions and local organisations.”

When asked why it is crucial to get nursing informatics right, Dickson highlighted the fact that they are one of the largest workforces.

“We need to embed digital nursing within nursing practice because we’re the biggest workforce within healthcare and using technology just needs to be part of our normal standard nursing practice in the same way that we use all our other tools,” she said.

“But the only way that we are going to be able to do that is by having nurses involved in the whole of the technology process – so making sure you have got them involved in the early stages.”

The future of nursing

Looking ahead, Dickson said she would like to see nurses more involved in decisions surrounding data and how it is used.

“The future for me is about saying well actually we have nurses involved in determining what information and data we are collecting and how we then might use it to improve patient outcomes,” she said.

“You hear lots of words banded about like ‘AI’ and ‘genomics’ and all of those things and there is absolutely a role for nurses in all of those things – sometimes they are seen as quite academic and dare I say it – medically focused areas but nurses have an important role to play too.”

Don’t feel on your own

As well as having a nursing career which has spanned over 25 years, Dickson was also chair of Digital Health’s CNIO Network – a community which brings together digital nurses from across the UK.

When asked about what advice she would give to anyone who is new to nursing or clinical informatics in general.

“Don’t ever feel like you are on your own I guess would be my biggest piece of advice,” she said.

“When I started out doing this kind of role, which was more than ten years ago, I actually did feel quite lonely some of the time and you had to kind of forge your own path through everything.

“Now, I don’t think that is necessary anymore because there are digital nurse leaders working at all kinds of different levels across sectors and organisations and the networks that exist are really inclusive.

“The thing that I am most proud of in terms of what has changed over the last ten years is the inclusivity around those networks and the fact that nobody need feel that they are on their own.”

Bringing new people to the arena

As well as being NHS Digital’s chief nurse, Dickson has another key role – being chair of the planning group for the Digital Nursing Summit at Digital Health Rewired 2022.

New for 2022, the summit will showcase digital nursing leaders, teams, and initiatives from across the NHS.

Dickson said: “The reason I said yes [to being the planning group chair] was because of the focus of it.

“What the summit isn’t doing is teaching the same stuff to the same people who have heard it all before, so we are really keen that with the digital nursing summit that what we are doing is bringing new people into this arena.”

Dickson adds that there are two key groups that will be focused on as part of the summit.

“One of them is chief nurse and deputy chief nurses from across all sectors and organisations, because what is happening now is a lot of them know that they need to consider digital as part of their wider portfolios of work, but they don’t always know where to start in doing that. We would like them to attend the conference so that they can get a good understanding of how they might write a digital nursing strategy or how to structure a team working on digital.” she said.

“The other group we want to encourage to come along is the group who aren’t CNIO at the moment or work in an organisation where they don’t have a CNIO.

“We’re going to try and encourage that group of people to come along and learn more about how they can work with their own chief nurses and deputy chief nurses to put those posts in place and make sure that every organisation has somebody responsible for nursing informatics.”

Digital Health Rewired is taking place on March 15-16 2022 at the Business Design Centre. The event is free for NHS, public sector, non-for-profit and third sector providers, charitable sectors, academics and researchers. 

Don’t miss out and register today.