• Bryant advises incoming chief ‘not to re-invent what has already been agreed’
  • New chief will need to learn to navigate ‘bonkers’ relationships with other system leaders
  • System requires ‘stability of message, policy and strategy’, says Bryant

An outgoing senior NHS Digital director has urged the body’s new chief executive, who joins in the summer, not to “divert from the current track” set out in the flagship Paperless 2020 digital work programme.

The organisation’s director of digital transformation Beverley Bryant is leaving to become chief operating officer of a health and social care technology provider, the System C & Graphnet Care Alliance from August, as exclusively revealed HSJ today.

Ms Bryant will leave the organisation in July, after which a new era will begin for NHS Digital, when Sarah Wilkinson will take over from interim chief executive Rob Shaw, joining from the Home Office where she is chief technology officer.

Ms Bryant, speaking to HSJ today, said the churn of senior digital figures at the top of the NHS had not been helpful, but ”the bigger question is stability of message, policy and strategy, not necessarily individuals…That is what the health and care system needs”. It was vital “people do not try to come in and start to re-invent what has been agreed”, she added.

She said there was significant support across the system and Whitehall for the vision set out in the 2014 Personalised Health and Care 2020, a blueprint she was part of developing while at NHS England and which is being delivered via the Paperless 2020 work programmes

She said one of Ms Wilkinson’s biggest challenges would be navigating relationships with NHS England, the Department of Health and the other arm’s length bodies.

“It’s not like technology is the only area to struggle with [juggling the relationships]. It is what it is and we do make it work, but new people coming into the system do often think: ‘What is this? This is bonkers!’ and they have to get [their head] around it. I’m confident Sarah will get her head around it, but it’s something that is learned through experience.”

She said her decision to leave had not been motivated by the pending change in leadership. She said: “I have been in a national role for four and half years [between NHS England and NHS Digital]…This feels like a really good time to move from strategy to delivery. The opportunity to work on the front line and making the paperless NHS a reality felt like an opportunity not to be missed.”

Ms Bryant said she was “proud” of her part in making the Personalised Health and Care 2020 strategy a reality, helping secure funding for the digital agenda in the last spending review, and overseeing Patient Online and the re-platforming of the e-referrals system.

She also paid tribute to former colleagues, including former NHS England former national director for patients and information Tim Kelsey, who oversaw the Personalised Health blueprint before leaving in 2015.

“I’ve been a big supporter of [Mr Kelsey]… He was really instrumental in helping us move from the wilderness years at the end of the National Programme for IT to the new direction that we’re now in.”

She also praised health secretary Jeremy Hunt and her “fantastic teams” at NHS England and NHS Digital. She also said she would remain in her ambassadorial role for HealthTech Women.