• Senior technology adviser at NHSX Terence Eden urges NHS staff to move to more digitally-enabled trusts 
  • Adds patients should switch GPs if they cannot book appointments online
  • But comments met with criticism from conference delegates

A senior NHSX technology adviser has urged clinicians to move to more digitally-advanced trusts if they are unhappy with their current workplace’s technology.

Speaking at a King’s Fund conference on Wednesday, senior technology adviser for NHSX, Terence Eden, added patients should switch GP practices if they are not able to book appointments online.

He said “people power” is needed to create “peer pressure” and encourage digital transformation throughout the healthcare system.

However, his comments were met with criticism from members of the audience. One delegate said encouraging clinicians to quit their jobs and move trusts “sends out the wrong message”.

Another delegate said the comments show a lack of understanding of what it is like to “work on the ground” in hospitals.

Taking questions at the event in London, Mr Eden said: “There’s another question here — ‘I work with NHS providers that don’t have access to Wi-Fi or up-to-date software’.

“I would say to both of these people asking these questions — quit and move to a hospital which does.

“This is the only way we are going to get this traction, with people power. If your GP doesn’t offer online bookings, move to a GP that does.

“If the hospital you work in doesn’t have great Wi-Fi complain, complain, complain and if they still won’t fix it move to a hospital that does.

“We need that peer pressure at a relatively high level to enable this transformation in some cases.”

‘Your staff are going to leave’

Mr Eden went on to clarify his comments after facing backlash from delegates.

He said: “I said you should move. Let me refine that ever so slightly — your staff are going to leave.

“If your workforce isn’t getting the stuff they need, they will move. If your patients aren’t able to get through because all the appointments are gone at 8am, they will switch to a different GP which uses an app.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be encouraging you to move, I should be encouraging you to stay and improve things, but your staff are going to leave.

“Your patients are going to leave — maybe that will improve things and maybe it won’t, but that is the reality.”

‘A joy and a love for the people’

However, head of digital health and AI at NHSX, Indra Joshi, warned against “eliminating the human element” as people “enjoy where they work and enjoy where they live”.

She said: “I remember working at the Whittington, north London. The Whittington is a pretty rough area and I remember night after night patients would come in, we would get them better, discharge them and they would go to the pub down the road and they would come back in the next day.

“I could have moved — I could have moved very easily but there’s a joy and a love for the people there and I think maybe we are slightly eliminating the human element of we are all people at the end of the day. People do enjoy where they work, where they live.”

The conference, which took place at the King’s Fund, held a series of talks investigating the future of technology in healthcare, particularly focusing on artificial intelligence.

In response to a question from an audience member, Mr Eden said the NHS is not planning to fix all “simple” digital issues, such as Wi-Fi, within hospitals and practices before introducing more advanced tech.

He said: “We are not going to say we will wait until everyone is up to this level and then we will do a big transformation. We are going to find people who are already operating well and we are going to accelerate them.

“We will be fixing the simple things, but we are not going to say, ‘We will just wait until everything is fixed before we do this.’ We can’t afford to waste that time.”