In March four years ago, I was one month into my new role as Programme Director following the DigitalHealth.London (DH.L) launch. Optimistic and excited about the opportunity ahead of me, to make a real difference through DH.L in getting the best digital health technologies and interventions into the NHS. Working life then was, and has been, what I would call ‘normal’, but vibrant, fast paced and varied. Offering challenge and opportunity to make a difference. Freedom to work across four organisations – the three London AHSNs and MedCity, build and nurture new relationships with suppliers, policy makers, academia, local government and potential partners. Aligning missions, identifying common values and visions to promote the benefits and uptake of digital interventions for patient benefit. Championing the agenda nationally and internationally. I have had the privilege of connecting with thousands of companies among which hundreds have been supported directly in some way, either to navigate the NHS or to find access to funding channels. I have also worked with some of our NHS commissioners and providers, and NHS front-line staff across London, to assist them in navigating the digital health maize, identify the best solutions, and implement them effectively. It’s fair to say that appetite for digital and the pace of uptake has been variable across the region.
Today as I write this, we are operating within a significantly different environment which is a stark contrast to the one we met in 2016 and subsequently developed over the last four years. An environment marred by the threat of a new contagious virus; COVID-19. The virus is rapidly ending the lives, prematurely, of innocent citizens, and dramatically affecting the way we live our daily lives in order to slow down the rate of spread and ease demand on our health care services.
Never before in the last four years at the helm of DigitalHealth.London, has there been a more urgent and compelling case for the role and value of digital health interventions. The order of the day is keeping citizens and patients at home, unless affected by the virus and needing high dependency hospital care. Priorities set out by NHSX at this time include: 1) keeping in touch with patients through text; 2) testing [for the virus] virtually; 3) enabling home working; 4) virtual consultations to support primary and secondary care; 5) electronic prescribing; 6) remote observations. We have worked with so many innovations in the last few years that are well placed to be able to respond to this urgent request by our policy makers. The demand we were working hard to drive in the years before COVID-19, is now real, palpable. It is as if many are playing catch up – many months or years of delayed deployment and uptake now creating a pressure to get the tools in place and train staff quickly. It is unfortunate that we are as a nation and globally, having to deal with this deadly virus, but it is an opportunity for digital health to demonstrate its full value. My hope is that we make the best decisions under these extraordinary circumstances that are likely to stick way beyond the COVID-19 crisis That we will as a system have accelerated our transition to a new way of working, as a positive legacy.
DigitalHealth.London has divided views around its tangible value to the system, over the years. One of the values that is kicking in right now is the portfolio of ‘good quality’ solutions that have surfaced during this time as a result of the platform we have provided. Whose value propositions have been shaped to become more relevant and needed by the NHS, with our direct help. Which means that now, in our hour of need, these solutions are ready to go, we know who and where they are, and we already have established relationships with all the main players. Lead time for engagement with the suppliers, onboarding and negotiation, is thus a lot shorter, and it means we can collectively get these solutions to the people that need them quicker. Also, through the work that we have led on the Investment side through our public-private partnership with fund management firms, we are able to provide a direct route to funding to be used to enable the rapid scaling of these solutions across regions and nationally, to support the COVID-19 response, and its spike in user demand.
I leave DigitalHealth.London after four glorious years with pride – that I have been able to lead a ‘vehicle’ that has accelerated not only digital innovations, but digital innovators too, across the NHS. But also sorrow, as there is still so much more to do, and the landscape post COVID-19 will provide so many new opportunities for progressing, with greater pace, this agenda forward.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone I have had the pleasure of leading, supporting commercially and professionally, and partnering with over the last four years. I look forward to observing how DigitalHealth.London continues to respond to the needs of our health and care system over the coming months and possibly years.