'We need to encourage the champions and enthusiasts who are still out there'
Almost all commentary on the national IT programme these days is focused on the problems. This is hardly surprising given the scale of difficulties the programme has encountered and the increasing delays in delivering functionally useful systems to the NHS.
One worrying consequence of the aggro, despondency and frustration is the fact that the managerial and professional perception of NHS clinical IT remains firmly stuck in the box marked 'too difficult', 'too expensive' and 'too much bloody trouble'. This creates further problems for those trying to move this agenda forward - rolling out clinical IT across the NHS is a big enough challenge, but without committed enthusiasts it begins to seem impossible.
Fortunately it remains a fundamental truth that the adoption of new technologies in the NHS is ultimately unstoppable. One only has to look at the way the internet has transformed so many aspects of how we live to be certain that, in the long run, even the NHS cannot forever resist the march of technology.
The NHS will eventually have to complete the same technological transformation as all other industries. There remains a desperately urgent task of generating excitement among grass-roots clinicians and managers for the massive service benefits these new technologies can deliver.
We will not, of course, rekindle widespread professional enthusiasm for the national programme by harping on about the revolutionary benefits of choose and book or by exaggerated claims for how many patient administration systems the programme will deliver. What fires clinicians' passion for clinical IT is technology that directly and beneficially impact on the core purpose of the NHS - treating sick people and helping them recover as much quality of life as possible. It is not a coincidence that the most well-received aspect of the national programme to date is the roll out of picture archiving and communications systems.
In the days of the national electronic patient record pilot in the 1990s the hospitals involved were required to hold frequent open days to showcase their progress. These were genuinely exciting times and there was a huge amount of interest in what we were doing. What was evidently most exciting to the people who came from all over the country was the chance to listen to doctors describing how they were using the record to improve clinical safety and change clinical practice. This was not done as some massive one-off project but through day-to-day use of a clinical IT system that had become an indispensable utility.
As one of the judges for the IT category in the HSJ Awards, I am enjoying trawling through 40 or so entries. They cover a wide range of success stories across the NHS. It is this process that prompted the theme of this article. It reminded me that despite the gloom and doom, there are clinicians working with IT technicians up and down the country who have kept the faith and are determined to harness the power of IT for the good of patients.
In among all the doom-laden reporting and commentary on the national IT programme, we need to shine a bright and positive light on these examples and on evidence around the country of IT delivering real clinical and service benefits.
One way or another we need to encourage the enthusiasts and champions who are still out there. Notwithstanding their legitimate frustrations with the national programme, we need to remember to be positive about the objective and provide encouragement and inspiration to others.
I don't know if there is a website dedicated to celebrating and showcasing real grass-roots IT successes in the NHS, but there should be.