• Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust CDIO leaves for role in private sector 
  • Matt Hancock previously praised trust for its development of in-house IT system 
  • Fears NHS will lose top talent unless more digital funding identified 

The chief digital information officer of a trust praised by the health and social care secretary for its IT has left for a private sector job, saying the situation in NHS IT was “excruciating”.

The departing CDIO of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust Richard Corbridge, who took up the role in 2017, is joining the Walgreens Boots Alliance as “opportunities to impact healthcare have become easier to realise outside the NHS”.

Matt Hancock praised the trust last year for developing a “good” in-house IT system rather than opting for the more expensive option of using an external provider.

During the same interview, Mr Hancock said NHS chief executives should be “asking serious questions” of themselves if their board does not have a CIO.

However, despite the trusts’ efforts to improve its technology, Mr Corbridge said digital is “too often” neglected across the NHS – prompting top IT leaders to “leave for the private sector”.

Digital chiefs to recently leave the NHS for private sector roles include NHS England chief digital officer Juliet Bauer and the CIOs of South London and Maudsley and Royal Brompton and Harefield foundation trusts.

Mr Corbridge said the NHS is “stuck in a state of paralysis” as there is not enough funding to facilitate digital ambitions.

He said: “Like many others, I’m sure, my motivation to leave is that opportunities to impact healthcare have become easier to realise outside of the NHS.

“Within it, there is a disjoint in understanding between healthcare leaders and decision-makers, which manifests in a system unable to make the transition into a digital world (at least, not as quickly and efficiently as we’d like).

“Too often, digital is neglected and seen as something that can be deferred and deferred again; the mantra ‘IT is not free’ needs to be reiterated and drummed into every board in the NHS – digital ambition requires prioritisation and funding.”

He went on to air concerns over Mr Hancock’s “digital revolution” laid out in the long-term plan, stating “no matter how good it is” it is merely an “aspiration or business case” without identified funding.

Mr Corbridge said he did not plan to leave the trust so soon after joining. He added he hopes one day he will be able to return to a system “which understands and is ready to embrace digital”. However, until then, he fears the NHS “will continue to lose its talent”.

He added: “For a digital health leader, this situation [is] excruciating. The ideas are there, the intention is there, but without money to deliver innovation we’re stuck in a state of paralysis, unable to ease the burden for NHS staff who continue to battle against the problems caused by an ageing population, years of chronic underfunding and a staffing crisis that amounts to over 100,000 vacant posts. Eventually, frustration takes its toll.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We recognise the NHS has been a frustrating place to work for some of our most talented technologists. We set up NHSX to cut red tape and make it easier for our talented tech workforce to get things done.

“To help them in that mission we’re simplifying cluttered central tech bureaucracy, mandating internationally recognised standards for NHS systems that will bring down the cost of technology, and reforming procurement so our CIOs can purchase the tools they need.

“We’re at the start of this journey. We know there is much more to do to deliver for patients and staff, and the NHS long-term plan, backed with an extra £33.9bn in cash terms a year by 2023-24, will guarantee the future of our health service.”