The NHS’s chief information officers derive much satisfaction from their work - but do we have what it takes to hold on to them, asks Tom Hodges

Tom hodges

Tom hodges

Against a backdrop of constant advances in technology which transform the way we live our lives, the NHS appears to have been struggling to match the pace. However the NHS is now emerging from the shadow of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) and embarking upon its own technology transformation and information revolution, the impact of which is being felt hard by chief information officers (CIOs) who are having to adapt and change.

The journey so far

A great deal has changed in the last decade and although the potential for technology and health informatics to improve patient care is well understood, there have been varying levels of competence and of investment. There has also been a shift away from what remains of NPfIT – almost all of the contracts will have been exited by the middle of this year. This means good CIOs have recognised they can once again be transformational engineers, rather than implementers of systems.

There is wide recognition of their importance in elevating the use of technology and informatics beyond just a supportive function

Despite the willingness to change, it is widely acknowledged that the NHS is still lagging when it comes to making the most of data and healthcare intelligence. There is a growing demand for CIOs to work together and learn from each other in order to catch up and push the NHS to the forefront of informatics.

Transforming methods

To help us understand what CIOs need to meet these challenges, we are publishing the latest report in our Insight for NHS Leaders series titled What makes a top CIO? Our report, based on over 30 in-depth interviews with CIOs, unpicks what has been crucial to the success of those who have been leading the way in this field, how the role has developed and what we need to nurture a new generation of leaders.

Hunter logo

Hunter logo

One of the report’s key findings is how varied the route to CIO has become. We examine some of the motivations to becoming a CIO and what factors keep them in their jobs. There is wide recognition of their importance in elevating the use of technology and informatics beyond just a supportive function and becoming an enabler for change.

Our report also explores how CIOs are represented at board level and the increasing professionalisation of health informatics, by examining the perspectives of those CIOs who have been the driving force for improvements in their organisations at a local and national level.

One of the report’s key findings is how varied the route to CIO has become

Despite the day-to-day frustrations we found an overwhelming sense of satisfaction which comes from being at the frontline and making transformational improvements in patient care. The question is whether this sense of achievement will be enough to encourage the next generation of NHS CIOs or will the contrasting financial rewards for the same skills in the commercial sector leave the NHS falling short when top CIOs are needed most.

Tom Hodges is Head of Technology and Informatics at Hunter Healthcare

It’s not about gadgets, it’s about change