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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.

Leeds Council CDIO Dylan Roberts on combining NHS and local government roles

With 20 years’ experience as a chief information officer in the public sector, Dylan Roberts has slowly taken up more and more responsibility in his roles. In fact, since starting at Leeds Council as Head of ICT back in September 2003, he has held four different roles, the most recent of which is chief digital and information officer (CDIO).

However, Roberts isn’t just CDIO of the council, but has a wider operational responsibility for the three NHS clinical care groups and the associated 102 GP practices across the city. In addition, he is senior responsible officer (SRO) for the Digital Health and Wellbeing Programme for the whole of Leeds and for the 100% Digital Smart Cities Programme.

His dual role of as CDIO of the council and Leeds NHS CCGs is certainly unique, and Roberts says he believes the council was the first to introduce a role like this, and that one other unknown UK council has followed suit.

According to Roberts, the dual role makes sense as he is measured on better outcomes for citizens – and this is more easily achieved if departments work closer together under one digital leader.

He says the need for this kind of dual role is even more significant in light of council grants being cut by 60 per cent, meaning government bodies are shifting from delivering services to working to improve other areas of the council to ensure citizens and patients can better look after themselves.

“So instead of going to the expensive end of the NHS like an acute hospital, perhaps there are earlier interventions by enabling people to live longer at home, or connecting different partners within the communities to support individuals,” Roberts suggests.

“We still need to deliver services to people with the most need but it’s about joining up with partners to reach your outcomes – you can’t do that as a council alone, and that’s why digital technology is critical to underpinning it.”

There are numerous examples in the city of Leeds of government organisations working together to provide better outcomes – the Leeds Care Record, which has been in place for six years is one.

“If you go to a GP in Leeds they can access a record which spans across the system – mental health, social care, hospital – so if you have been prescribed medication for mental health or in hospital or you’re known to social care, then clinicians and carers can havea  joined up view,” he sats.

Another example is the Careview app, which has been live for just over a year. It allows professionals across the city that are out and about on the street – such as police officers, postmen or charity workers, to notify Leeds City Council’s public health team of people that might be socially isolated or lonely.

“What we did was connect the streets with community and local people who go down door knocking, and of 200 doors knocked, we were getting 46 positives. They had a social isolation need that could have turned into an illness and also cost a lot more further down the line to deal with. So getting socially isolated people connected with someone else is one way to help reduce pressure on our existing internal services,” Roberts explains.

Efficiency is still important

While Roberts is keen to emphasise that his role is not about cutting costs or increasing efficiency, he says that it is still important to work with partners that provide efficiency.

One of those partners is Canon, which has provided a centralised print service to the council, and along with a programme to reduce print volume by 25 per cent, has led to £400,000 in financial savings so far.

But this is just the start. Roberts hopes that public sector organisations should be able to tap into utility-type services like printers, email, collaboration tools, cloud-based services and PCs through a multi-sourced model. This means the council, along with health and social care services within the city, could procure these types of services together, enabling them to access these services securely, and for a better price.

But before Roberts gets there, he will embark on a review on how IT is structured for both the council and the CCGs. He has different heads of digital change that look after particular areas of the organisation, but will be evaluating his own role as he does not want to be spread too thinly across the council and his NHS position.