HC2008 - the lighter side of Healthcare Computing event in Harrogate

Acting NHS CIO Matthew Swindells, who is writing a review of NHS informatics, revealed to the HC2008 conference in Harrogate that, as IT buyer for South East Thames Regional Health Authority in 1989, he bought a KPMG “casemix” system for Eastbourne Hospital.

“This year,” said Swindells, “iSoft promised to deliver the finished product.”

Most people in the audience smiled or laughed. But in the context of the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT] is 19 years such a long time to wait for the complete product?

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One of the most “exciting” technological innovations since the launch of the NPfIT was discussed at a session on patient safety on the opening day of the HC2008 conference. It’s the infection-resistant keyboard that encourages users to wash their hands.

Thousands are to be released to the NHS, with the backing of NHS Connecting for Health. The keyboard has a flashing light which prompts those using it to clean its surfaces frequently, including underneath, and so serendipitously encourages people to wash their hands more often.

Countries around the world are watching progress on the NHS’s National Programme for IT. If other products to improve patient safety continue to be delayed under the NPfIT, the washable keyboard could be seen abroad as the saving grace of the £12bn scheme.

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NHS Connecting for Health, having withdrawn from the conference at Harrogate last year, turned out in force this year, with speakers at several sessions who have spoken freely and informatively, so far. NHS CfH also has a large exhibition area on a mezzanine floor, close to the conference centre’s main auditorium (well away from suppliers in the exhibition halls). Now that NHS CfH appears to be offering its hand of friendship to NHS IT professionals as equals, no longer as controller of the controlled, will there will be many to accept it?

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A much-misused word in many conference talks – not only at HC2008 – is “transform”. To transform is to change markedly, not necessarily for the better. Cytologists who study cells will sometimes talk about the transforming of cells into malignant ones. Officials may wish to dwell on what they mean by “transformational government” and “transforming NHS IT”.

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