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CIO interview: Stephen Docherty on NHS data sharing

The Cambridge Analytica scandal raised awareness about privacy. Stephen Docherty, CIO of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, explains why

It is certainly major kudos when the CEO of one of the world’s largest IT firms gives your organisation a namecheck – and that is exactly what happened during Microsoft’s London Future Decoded event in November.

As Stephen Docherty, CIO of the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) mental healthcare NHS trust, explains: “During Cognitive Build in the US, we were talking about new capabilities in Microsoft Teams. We had a video which was shown there. Satya [Nadella, CEO of Microsoft] heard our story.”  

That is how Nadella came across the story of how SLaM was using Microsoft’s collaboration platform, leading to the CEO mentioning the trust in his keynote presentation at the start of the 2018 Future Decoded conference.

In 2012, when Docherty was deputy IT director Europe for Sony Computer Entertainment, he won the City University London’s IBM Enterprise Computing scholarship to study on the university’s Master of Information Leadership (MIL) course.

Two years later, in November 2014, Docherty joined the NHS and the following year set out an IT strategy to future-proof, derisk and go to the cloud. He says: “I firmly believe we should not be running services like Office internally when Microsoft has been running it for years. I was having conversations with NHS Digital, my own internal department and Microsoft. Moving to the cloud and Office 365 was absolutely the way to go.”

Docherty wanted to change the culture at SLaM to help clinicians adopt the new technology. “We didn’t roll out Office 365 immediately,” he says. “We wanted to make sure IT fully understood Office 365, then brought in small groups of people. Everyone had email, but we wanted to show them how to use Yammer and understand that there’s a different way to communicate.”

For Docherty, Yammer provided a less formal environment. “We wanted people to understand that they could still use email if they wanted, but they started to embrace Yammer,” he says. Today, the trust has more than 1,700 people on Yammer.

But it was the introduction of Microsoft Teams that was the real game-changer, he says. “People then understood you could set up a team with multidisciplinary people across the trust and across boroughs, start to collaborate, add documents, and you don’t have to include everyone.”

Docherty now has a new digital strategy, which was approved by the SLaM board in January 2018. It focuses on diminishing the trust’s email culture and creating a more collaborative culture.

“We are using PowerBI to measure the usage of Microsoft Teams,” he says. “We will eventually minimise email traffic. Over the next few years, internal email traffic will diminish because if you can open up platforms to multidisciplinary teams both internally and externally and include social care, you then have a rich collaborative space and a secure environment.”

The role of collaboration in modernising NHS IT

Docherty, who is also chair of the London CIO Council, believes the NHS is now in a good position to become more digitised. He says that although the National Programme for IT did not work out, it led to a coming together of sustainability transformation partnerships (STPs), of which 44 are in England, with five in London.

“The right level of people have come together,” he says. “I sit on the South East footprint digital board and the London digital board and I chair the London CIO Council. I get to speak to them all. People want to collaborate and lots of people want to join in. The STPs are exactly at the right level for people to collaborate.”

Docherty says people in the NHS are racing to digitise. This is being driven by the nature of NHS funding, which has seen squeezes on core services and growing demand. But there is now a catalyst for change driven by Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care. “We have an energised secretary of state who has put his tech vision out there,” he says.

Tech innovation in the health service is happening both from the top down, with Hancock’s vision, and from the bottom up, says Docherty. “We see little pockets of [innovative] things happening, which is really good,” he adds. “If you see innovation, you have to get over the ‘not invented here’ syndrome. That is the case now and people are starting to look around to see who has something that’s good. Where they see pockets of innovation, they are actually applauding it.

“As a CIO, you have so much going on, locally and regionally, in your patch and a lot of us have to get involved in the national activity because we need to understand what’s happening with the funding and the tech vision.”

One of those innovations is a new idea for a patient record, says Docherty. “We are developing a personal health record, built on open source on the [Microsoft] Azure platform. We are going out to the other trusts. They can join the cloud. If they want to connect to it, they have to commit to evolving the platform.”

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For Docherty, the Cambridge Analytica data leak, which came out almost at the same time as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, raised public awareness about privacy. “People started to understand what privacy actually is,” he says. “So rather than saying, ‘no I don’t want to share my data’, they are starting to understand why they should be sharing their data. It has opened up the dialogue.”

Progress with data sharing is now happening, says Docherty. “There are pockets of data sharing. You have shared care records and a lot of CIOs are embracing social media to try to promote these shared care records.”

Thanks to funding through the STPs, these are now evolving, says Docherty. For instance, the Local Health and Care Record programme, funded by NHS England, currently has five exemplars. “London’s One London was the first successful bid to create an infrastructure and platforms for delivering shared care records across the whole of London, comprising a population of over nine million,” he adds.

Docherty says the initiative has been endorsed by Theo Blackwell, CDO for the mayor of London. “This is the right time to have conversations with the public about what we are doing and why this is important,” he says.

Looking at GDPR compliance, he adds: “In London there is a Data Controller Console,  which has allowed us to put in place data sharing agreements so we don’t duplicate agreements, and this is being rolled out across London.”

Beyond data sharing, Docherty says NHS Digital and NHS England are collaborating with a number of partners on introducing a national citizen identity platform. Under the leadership of Juliet Bauer, NHS England’s chief digital officer, the aim is to secure access to patient records that can be used easily by patients themselves. It is rather like providing patients with a simple login, like the ones they are used to on Amazon or Netflix, he says.

Docherty says a national citizen identity platform will enable people to prove their identity once, in a manner that is convenient to them. “This will build public confidence in, and encouraging greater use of, all local and national digital health and care services,” he adds.

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