More serene: Two and a half years into my work at NHS Digital – part 3

graffiti: NHS letters in a blue heart
(CC BY-SA 2.0) Gordon Joly on Flickr

In part 1 of this update, I looked at what’s changed for me at work over the past 6 months. In part 2, I shared what I’ve learned through my participation in the NHS Leadership Academy’s Nye Bevan Programme. To round off these reflections, I’m thinking about what’s next, with a nod back to the beginnings of the NHS.

Last week, I was privileged to spend 2 hours in the user research lab with the team testing new GP profile pages for the national NHS website. It was their seventh round of research, and the prototype performed well. But listening to patients and staff always reminds me why observing user research, and starting with user needs, are so important.

One participant, talked confidently about her own life with a serious long-term condition, before revealing the much starker impact when her young adult son was taken ill with a life-threatening disease. She sought treatment for stress at this time, she told us:

“The anxiety and the fear of loss is so scary.”

Her words reminded me of this passage in Nye Bevan’s 1952 book “In Place of Fear”:

“Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide.”

That’s why we do what we do in our national health service: if we want to live in a society that’s happier, more trusting of others, and more optimistic about the future, we need to appreciate the fear and stress that comes with illness in so many families up and down the country.

We could do much worse than spend the next several years working to relieve that anxiety to the greatest possible extent by giving the safest, highest quality, best experiences of care.

This is what the 2019 NHS Long Term Plan promises:

  • “more joined-up and coordinated care” – underpinned by digital prowess to ensure that data, prescriptions, referrals and bookings flow smoothly across organisational boundaries
  • “more proactive services”, including all the things we do to help people stay well, and the preventive screening programmes
  • “more differentiated support”, for which being on millions of patients’ phones with the NHS App and NHS login forms an important building block
  • all this delivered through co-design and collaboration with staff and patients.

Our digital, data, and technology vision is very clear about how we’re going to do that in the 2020s:

“Every service must be designed around user needs, whether the needs of the public, clinicians or other staff.”

In the next 6 months, I hope to continue to show what that looks like at scale. Here are some of my objectives, focus areas for myself, drawn from among my broader team objectives:

  • Establish our design leadership approach across more products and services
  • Ensure our delivery teams and partners are committed to our co-created patient engagement policy, user experience strategy and standards
  • Secure user-centred design team resources for 2020-21 and beyond
  • Establish design thinking and agile processes in new work from the start, with appropriate governance and funding
  • Build our own and others’ confidence that new work is on track to meet the service standard, especially on points 1 to 6, where I and my teams are best placed to assure
  • Lead with care through the next wave of organisation change
  • Support my direct reports to perform highly and achieve their full career potential
  • Embed the DDAT skills framework for user-centred design, product, and delivery across health and care
  • Continue to contribute to Building a Digital Ready Workforce activities with colleagues at Health Education England.

2.5 years into my time here, my team and I have a plan. We’re working with colleagues across organisational boundaries to make health and care more human-centred. And every week, in person and online, I encounter more people who want to do the same. Maybe, dear reader, you’re one of them.

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