Digital Health has developed at a nearly unrecognisable pace over the last decade from a focus on “boxes, wires and pcs” to advisory bodies capable of helping Cambodian clinicians introduce electronic patient records (EPR) systems, past and incoming leaders of the Digital Health networks told a keynote session on the first day of Summer Schools 2023.

Key priorities for the incoming network chairs will include mentoring the next generation of digital transformation leaders, clarifying career pathways for digital professionals and focusing on interoperability issues that undermine the potential benefits of digital tools.

Dr James Reed, CCIO at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health FT and outgoing CCIO Network chair, observed that when he first became involved in digital transformation, “there didn’t seem to be much a doctor could say about running the networks”.

Dr Reed was involved in setting up the very first Summer Schools, then called the CCIO Summer School, back in 2013 where only 30 delegates attended, significantly less than the 400+ attending this year’s Digital Health Summer Schools – the tenth anniversary of the event, which is being held at the University of Birmingham.

Chief technology officer at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust Professor Daniel Ray also spoke as part of the panel and remembered a focus in early clinical systems on how many people were treated, rather than the medical outcome of that treatment.

Sarah Hanbridge, the outgoing CNIO Network chair, recalled joining Summer School virtually during the Covid pandemic, when there was no existing network for nurses. She called the lessons learned over the first two years of the network “phenomenal” and added, “it’s been a social movement.”

She praised the passion of her network and its commitment to making sure the next generation of nurses are equipped to continue the digital transformation, saying that “we’ve changed the outlook of nursing, midwifery and AHPs”.

Hanbridge said “the best work we [CNIO Network] did was the international work with Cambodia to set the scene around their EPR”. Other accomplishments include increasing the network’s Twitter followers from 500 to 3500 and increasing the number of objectives achieved from 12 to 24.

Simon Noel, the newly elected chair of the CNIO Network and CNIO at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation, said a key priority for the future leadership needs to be digital enablement.

“It’s great that we have new digital technology and buy-in, but if the staff at the point of care don’t know how to use it correctly, it means data becomes undermined at the point of use,” he said. In addition, he said “we need to understand what career progression looks like.”

Dermot O’Riordan, CMIO at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS FT and the newly elected chair of the CCIO network, said he hoped his experience as a practicing surgeon and his involvement with EPR procurement in two neighbouring hospitals would position him well for his network role and allow him to act as a voice for members. He promised to say “uncomfortable things that need to be said”.

Paul Jones, the new chair of the CIO Network and CDIO at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and CIO at West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership, said he hoped to work closely with national colleagues in order to “understand and co-produce policies.”

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.