Jenny Thomas, Programme Director of DigitalHealth.London, led the setup of the flagship Accelerator programme in 2016 and has since been pivotal in driving the growth of DigitalHealth.London to the organisation that it is today. Here, on her last day at DigitalHealth.London, she reflects on some of the people who have inspired and influenced her along her journey.
I’ve met some truly inspirational people throughout my career, and it would take much more than just one blog to list every person who has influenced my journey. Instead, I wanted to look back and thank a number of individuals who have not only been part of my personal growth over the years but have also played a pivotal role in the creation and continued success of DigitalHealth.London. The following list is not exhaustive and only scratches the surface!
I want to start at the beginning with Ann McIntyre, Director of HR at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital (GSTT), who very early on suggested to me that I should consider focusing on health innovation and draw on my skills as a connector of people. Anna King, Commercial Director at the Health Innovation Network, along with our partners at CW+, MedCity, Imperial College Health Partners and UCLPartners came up with DigitalHealth.London’s vision and were pivotal in the creation of the organisation and what it stands for. Anna is extremely driven and has an amazing ability to make things happen; I have gained so much from working closely with her. She sensed the pressure I put on myself when I became a mum and gave me the flexibility to have a career and grow my family. Mike Wright, Senior Innovation Business Partner at CW+, has been a brilliant coach and has taught me so much, from learning how to spot standout companies and entrepreneurs, to solidifying my perspective on what it takes to adopt innovations and truly realise their benefits. The collaboration we have with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and CW+ has brought about so much positive change.
Ian Abbs, Chief Executive at GSTT, has always believed in the potential of digital in healthcare and shared his interest and perspective as the Chair of DigitalHealth.London’s advisory board. His recent work with local partners to create SC1, KHP Ventures and Citi is a testament to his strategic vision and ambition. Additionally, over the last few years, I have come to appreciate the importance of evidence generation, and the competitive advantage it offers companies, particularly as the market consolidates – Professor Paul Wallace is at the centre of this and seeing him enthusiastically lead the team has been inspiring. Watch out for a new programme announcement in Autumn!
Drivers of innovation
Every year, I have been blown away by the phenomenal innovations I have seen across the digital health space. It has been a true honour to support every single company that has been a part of DigitalHealth.London, and I feel very lucky to have been part of their journeys. One of many companies that have stood out to me is DrDoctor – their Founder, Tom Whicher, has always focused on what matters to people and how he can help. When I was a General Manager in the NHS, he taught me the importance of making an innovative project small enough so that you can start it. Jonathan Knight, one of the only Founders to have been part of more than two Accelerator cohorts, is one of the most creative people I know, I value him as my go-to person and someone who has taught me how to think outside the box. AccuRx, one of the most successful companies to have graduated from our Accelerator programme is a great example of a company that focused on understanding their users and making a product that they love. Within a very short timeframe, I saw how they pivoted their business offering, and grow exponentially across the UK. I’m so grateful that Jacob and the AccuRx team hosted my leaving drinks for the DigitalHealth.London community at their offices. And of course, Mridula Pore, Founder of Peppy – I am so inspired by the team’s focus on health inequality and their inclusive approach when it comes to supporting people, and I am very excited to embark on this new chapter of my career. Thank you to Mridula for giving me an incredible opportunity to work within a field I feel so passionately about.
Anatole Menon-Johansson, Co-lead of the Sexual & Reproductive Health Department at GSTT, has fiercely sourced and adopted innovation, long before anyone else did, and I owe a lot of my knowledge to him. Raj Kohli and Peter Huang, Co-founders of Healthtech 1, a company currently on the sixth cohort of our Accelerator programme, have harnessed the importance of communicating transparency and trust in your innovation. They spend almost all their time with their customers, and they clearly communicate their impact, for example, number of hours saved from automating patient registrations in primary care.
My MBA taught me the value of customer feedback which is why the Net Promoter Score has been key to all of our programmes at DigitalHealth.London. However, from working with a number of founders I realised that there is more to this. We must create opportunities to check in with people in environments where they feel comfortable to share. Also, never assume that you have provided true value to a customer, there is always more that can be done. Understanding what success means to different people underpins everything.
A passionate team of experts
Many of DigitalHealth.London’s achievements would not have been accomplished without the fantastic team – both current and alumni. I have always admired my previous co-director, Yinka Makinde’s, passion and tireless enthusiasm to raise awareness of digital technology in health. She identified that we needed to support NHS staff, and not just digital health companies – and thus, championed and founded our Digital Pioneer Fellowship programme.
The DigitalHealth.London team alumni have gone on to achieve brilliant things within the digital health space. James Somauroo has now established an innovation and communications agency, specifically for health tech companies. Hannah Harniess is now heading up workforce strategy and transformation at a London Trust, Sara Nelson was appointed as Deputy Chief Nursing Informatics Officer at NHSX, and most recently, Brett Hatfield started at Google Health. The team at DigitalHealth.London is ever-changing and destined to achieve great things and I look forward to seeing how the team continues to evolve!
Inspirational NHS leaders
It has been an incredibly rewarding experience mentoring some of the Fellows on our Digital Pioneer Fellowship programme, it is clear that there is a growing appetite in openness for digital transformation and change across the NHS. Emma Selby, an alumnus Fellow, graduated from the Fellowship programme and is now sharing her knowledge of best practice and digital inclusion with Wysa – a company on the Accelerator programme. It is motivating to see that we are nurturing NHS staff and providing them the tools, platforms and connections to make real strides in their careers.
More broadly across the NHS network, there are a number of individuals I’d like to mention. Tara Donnelly has done an extraordinary amount of work in creating a place for digital innovation within the health and care ecosystem and continues to in her role as Director of Digital Care Models. Pam Garside has also been a brilliant connector for the organisation and has provided real value to the companies on our programmes – it was from her that I learnt that I should always take a meeting if an opportunity arises. Lisa Emery’s enthusiasm and openness to innovation has been truly inspiring, and I will always fondly remember our Dragon’s Den at the Royal Marsden, as well as Sonia Patel’s Digital Den event we held with her – which led to Infinity Health being adopted by her organisation. Luke Readman, another member of our advisory board, has been a huge supporter of our vision, and from the very beginning, has made an active effort to support and attend our events. Luke has always challenged me (in a good way!) and has been so important in grounding me. Maxine Mackintosh and Juliet Bauer reinforced to me that you can be a brilliant leader whilst being authentic and great fun.
The importance of growing a network
If there’s one key thing I’ve learnt, it’s the importance of growing your network and meeting different individuals outside your immediate circle. You can gain such valuable insights if you put in time and effort into building networks. Jon Hoeksma of Digital Health and Marija Butkovic, Founder and CEO of Women of Wearables, have successfully built networks and brought different individuals together to generate meaningful conversations at scale. From harnessing partnerships with both organisations, we as a small team, have had the opportunity to collaborate and offer a fantastic network to the NHS staff and companies we work with. This also includes people with lived experiences – Liz O-Riordan, a surgeon who has experienced breast cancer has been such an inspiration to me and it really reinforced why digital health is so important.
At the beginning, no-one wanted to hear about digital health start-ups and how they could help the NHS – we were essentially helping to create a new market. But now, we have a completely new conversation. We’re now making sure that the unheard are heard and the unseen are seen. We’re raising awareness of areas of healthcare where digital innovation is needed, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of making this happen.
Our focus has shifted to how we can roll this out at scale. Collaboration is key and I hope to continue to be a connector of people to ensure this happens. I would like to thank everyone who has been a part of my journey so far (again, this list is not comprehensive!). It is truly an honour to work with such talented individuals in a sector that is ever-changing and growing day by day.
“This morning, on my last day at DigitalHealth.London, the Department of Health & Social Care and NHS England published their plan for digital health and social care. As I leave this role, it gives me great hope to see that digital transformation of the health and social care sector is now a top priority for the country.”
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