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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

Graham Evans on a dual IT leader role at an NHS trust and an integrated care system

When Graham Evans left North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust back in August 2008, he wouldn’t have thought he would be coming back to the organisation in the future; but after stints at NHS North East and NHS England, he re-joined the trust in July 2016 as its chief information and technology officer.

It was at this time that the organisation was in its early stages of implementing a new InterSystems TrakCare electronic patient record system – the first time a trust in England had done so.

“There were a few teething problems and I very quickly identified that the fundamentals were in place and the organisation had picked the product that could do what it was intended to do, but perhaps we needed to put more emphasis on some of our engagement and clinical leadership,” he says.

This was an area that Evans focused on back then, developing a strategic view that was linked directly to the organisation’s business and corporate aspirations.

“We wanted to have a clear direction for technology to enable the organisation to work in a more efficient and effective way, particularly because it was the NHS’s 70th birthday approaching and the demands and pressures placed on secondary care in particular, meant we needed to use technology to not just do the same things better, but to do better things,” he says.

Evans talks up the need for trusts to see technology as a strategic investment rather than as a cost of doing business.

“We implement technologies but we don’t really change what we are doing, so real transformation comes when you understand where you are today and have a clear vision of where you want to get to and then incrementally move forward,” he says.

“The most important part is the people component, where we need a clear understanding of the clinical needs and business needs, making sure clinicians can describe problems and challenges and then technologists can find the right tools or techniques to enable clinicians to be able to work in a more joined up, streamlined and efficient manner,” he adds.

This is why moving from a disparate set of loosely connected clinical and business services into a more enterprise-wide electronic patient record was a crucial move for the trust.

“You can then start to focus on the application and the benefits within the application as opposed to managing the smorgasbord of different systems, interfaces and multiple logins,” Evans explains.

Another benefit has been that the organisation can develop applications within the platform.

“In the past, there may have been particular things we’d have to procure an additional system for. With TrakCare in particular, if there is another piece of technology or feature required – working with our partners or InterSystems, we can develop most of that within the platform itself,” he says.

Recently, the trust had a requirement to develop ward handover capability – so it built that rather than procuring another tool.

Combined roles

Last September, Evans was asked if he would like to combine his role with a wider position as chief digital officer of the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System, which is the largest integrated system in the country, serving a population of just over 3.2 million.

Amongst his focuses in this role are a bid to become more connected, and standardised across the region.

“We’re looking at how we can do an agreement with our stakeholders to develop a convergence model around our region to concentrate on having fewer systems, because there’s nothing more frustrating for clinicians than having to use different systems in different regions,” Evans states.

He adds that the NHS is generally struggling to hire medical and nursing professionals and that this has given further incentive to slim down the number of systems in-use.

“We need to be able to have interoperable services that allow us to be agile, mobile and deliver care from multiple organisations,” he says.

In addition, the region is working on the Great North Care Record, a health exchange which would connect various health and care providers together, to enable them to access patient information in real-time.

This would go a long way to helping ease many patients’ frustrations that their data in one hospital cannot be accessed in another local health and care setting. Furthermore, it will help clinicians to make better informed decisions.

Evans states that GDPR and data security are major considerations of this plan, and he believes there needs to be a general rise in digital maturity across the region in order to ensure that the data is used appropriately.

He believes his chief digital officer role is also helping his position at the trust, as he is able to communicate with many other trusts in the region that could become partners with North Tees and Hartlepool in the years to come.