• Former Addenbrooke’s chief Keith McNeil will become NHS England’s first chief clinical information officer
  • Will Smart, currently chief information officer at the Royal Free Hospital, will become the new NHS chief information officer
  • Appointments are part of a substantial restructure of NHS England’s senior technology team

NHS England has announced three senior technology appointments, with former Addenbrooke’s chief executive Keith McNeil handed a key role.

Dr McNeil will become NHS England’s first chief clinical information officer, while Will Smart, currently chief information officer at the Royal Free Hospital, will become the new NHS chief information officer.

The developments represent a departure from earlier plans announced last year to appoint just a single chief information and technology officer.

Both represent bold appointments. Dr McNeil resigned from Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust in September ahead of it being placed in special measures by the Care Quality Commission.

The trust had long been under pressure due to rising demand for services, and operational problems. But the CQC also criticised its implementation of the Epic electronic records system, which caused ‘a significant number of problems’ after it went live in 2014.

Mr Smart meanwhile joins from the Royal Free, which has established a ground breaking, if sometimes controversial, relationship with Google DeepMind, which is aiming to develop an app that improves the detection of acute kidney injury.

NHS England has also appointed former Times Newspapers online executive Juliet Bauer as director of digital experience. She has been handed a wide portfolio, which includes overseeing the substantial upgrade of the NHS Choices website.

The roles will be based at NHS England and will report to Matthew Swindells, national director of operations and information. But the post-holders will also be accountable to NHS Improvement, with responsibility for its technology work with NHS providers.

The trio of appointments represent part of a substantial restructure of NHS England’s senior technology team, which has, in part, been driven by Mr Swindells since his arrival earlier this year.

An NHS England statement said: “The creation of these roles reflects recommendations in the forthcoming review on the future of NHS information systems by Prof Bob Wachter.

“Rather than appoint a single chief information and technology officer, consistent with the Wachter review the NHS is appointing a senior medical leader as NHS chief clinical information officer supported by an experienced health IT professional as NHS chief information officer.

“The first NHS chief clinical information officer will be professor Keith McNeil, a former transplant specialist who has also held many senior roles in healthcare management around the world, including chief executive officer at Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust and chief executive officer at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in Australia.

“The new NHS chief information officer will be Will Smart, currently chief information officer at the Royal Free. Mr Smart has had an extensive career in IT across the NHS and in the private sector.”

Addenbrooke’s was widely criticised at the time for its Epic implementation under Dr McNeil’s leadership. But speaking yesterday, Professor Wachter, whose government commissioned NHS digital review is due in September, said regulators must “cut some slack” to provider chief executives who are overseeing large technology deployments.

Prof Wachter said: “The experience of Addenbrookes is very important. If you have a bumpy initial digitalisation – and that is going to get you fired - I think that is a problem.

“I can tell you that in the US we spend a lot more money on digitalisation than you do or can… and all their implementations were bumpy because digitalisation is really hard to do. There has to be some slack cut for the chief executive in the early stages.

“Failing to digitise needs to become a bad thing for a chief executive.”

An NHS England statement said Ms Bauer ”will oversee the transformation of the NHS Choices website and the development and adoption of digital technology for patient ‘supported self-management’, including for people living with long term conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Ms Bauer has led delivery of similar technology programmes in many sectors, including leading the move to take Times Newspapers online”.

The substantial restructure follows the departure of NHS England board member Tim Kelsey in December, who held a wide brief as director of patients and information, as well as other senior members of the body’s technology and digital team.