The chief information officer of NHS England has told Digital Health Summer Schools that he wants to champion both adequate funding for the digitisation of the health service and the addition of “boots on the ground” from the centre to help implement and manage change.

“Our job is to make the case for more funding for digital transformation,” John Quinn told a packed lecture theatre at the University of Birmingham. He noted that infrastructure is taking up 30-40% of budgets at a time when funding is already stretched.

The issue of retention of technology professionals and the challenge the NHS faces in competing with the private sector for talent was a particular issue highlighted several times during the morning keynote session and subsequent Q&A.

“The salary problem is a really critical one and we want to make a case for improving that,” Quinn said, adding that one way of doing so would be to develop a clearer set of standards and salary bands for digital professionals.

“Clearly, making [the NHS] a brilliant place to work and, for younger people and giving them good technology to work on is a big thing. Ultimately, we want to make this a place where people can do the best work of their lives.”

Real-time support with digital transformation is equally important, Quinn said, adding that he wants to see “more of a revolving door from the national centre into the front lines,” with those responsible for digital change getting experience, where possible, on both the national level and where care is being delivered.

Quinn also said the principle challenge of implementing digital change is countering scepticism from a demoralised healthcare workforce that has already experienced multiple transformation programs. The government estimates that a 500% optimism bias is needed to manage a digital project, he said.

“We do love a challenge, he added. “We like talking about challenge and on our best days we call them opportunities.”

Quinn was joined by Professor Gemma Stacey, a mental health nurse and deputy chief executive of the Florence Nightingale Foundation.

Stacey discussed her research on how digital and data can help enable person-centred practice, which is due to be published before the end of the year. The findings, she said, show that leaders in the digital health space need to be able to make the case for opportunities while being aware of the scepticism.

“The challenge is that there is the potential for digital and data to worsen inequalities of health,” she said, adding that there needs to be an “acknowledgement that we have got this wrong a few times and lost the trust of public and significant portion of population. It’s important to get it right and rebuild trust.”

Those most successful at implementing person-centred practice learn to play several key roles, she said: they provide a bridge to engage with those who have lost trust in the process; they act as a parent able to articulate when a substitution that has been identified is “not the right thing”; they translate the new digital world into one with benefits that can be apparent to non-specialists; and they act as role models.

Digital Health Summer Schools is running today and tomorrow at the University of Birmingham, where CCIOs, CIOs, CNIOs and aspiring digital health leaders will enjoy two days of CPD-accredited content, rewarding education, networking, and best practice exchange, and have a unique opportunity to learn from the very best digital health leaders from across the UK.