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Sarah Wilkinson to head up NHS Digital

Home Office chief digital, data and technology officer Sarah Wilkinson is leaving the department to lead NHS Digital as its CEO

NHS Digital has hired Home Office chief digital, data and technology officer (CDDTO) Sarah Wilkinson as CEO to replace Andy Williams who left at the end of March.

Wilkinson, who has led an ambitious transformation programme at the Home Office since February 2015, will take up her new role at NHS Digital in June.

At NHS Digital she will be at the helm of delivering a paperless NHS by 2020, which includes a large portfolio of programmes at national and local level focused on making effective use of information, technology and data.

NHS Digital chair Noel Gordon said in a statement that he was "delighted" to have Wilkinson on board.  

"Sarah brings vast experience of implementing complex technology projects, alongside a deep insight into bringing about positive change to a broad range of communities through digital delivery," he said. 

"She is joining a talented, ambitious and committed team and I look forward to seeing NHS Digital continue to work with the health and care sector to deliver technology and digital services of maximum value to patients and the public.

In an email, seen by Computer Weekly, Wilkinson told the Home Office digital, data and technology (DDaT) team that although she was sad to leave the department, the role as CEO of NHS Digital was “too attractive an opportunity to turn down”.

Wilkinson has been driving change at the Home Office since she took on the role, and last year led the department – which is responsible for a range of digital and technology projects, including the e-Borders successor programme and the IT of several arm’s length bodies – through a merger of its digital (HOD) and technology (HOT) units.

The new team combines 250 staff from the HOD unit, with about 1,000 employees and contractors in HOT, and has allowed the Home Office to streamline work and utilise skills across both organisations.

In an interview with Computer Weekly in February, Wilkinson said there was still a lot of work to be done, but the department had come a long way in the past few years. 

NHS Digital chief operating officer Rob Shaw has been functioning as interim CEO since Williams' departure. 

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While the NHS has already made significant improvements in the uptake of some systems, a recent report from Digital Health Intelligence concludes that the government’s target for all NHS hospitals to become paperless will not be met before 2027. The NHS has had a few hiccups with their handling of information, with an email being sent to 820,000 of their employees back in November 2016, and losing more than 500,000 pieces of patient data sent between GPs and hospitals. All too often that vital information becomes lost, subsumed in email overload and poor management of those pieces of content. It is encouraging to see that they aim to be paperless as this will enable them to make sure that sensitive data is secure but the NHS needs to do everything in its power to try hurry this process along to avoid inevitable mishaps.

Being able to work centrally from documents creates a more inclusive, up-to-date and informed professional environment. This leads to efficiency and success. With the right management in place, the damage can be contained, avoiding any catastrophes.

I hope Sarah and her team successfully deliver technology and digital services of maximum value to patients and the public. I wish the NHS the best of luck on its mission to go paperless. However, it must begin to improve patient safety and privacy immediately.