The NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT), set up under the government of Tony Blair, has caused a technology recruitment nightmare for CIOs in the health sector says James Thomas, CIO at one of the UK’s leading hospitals, UCLH in London.

“The stigma of the NHS National Programme for IT is the worst thing for recruiting experts into the NHS,” James Thomas, number one in the 2013 CIO 100 told the Harvey Nash CIO Survey event yesterday.

“Also the roles in the NHS didn’t fit in with industry, so at UCLH we have been normalising our roles and job titles so we have been able to improve our skills base.

“The NHS is an incredibly complex organisation with lots of organisations that should work together that are not incentivised to do so,” he said of the organisational challenge a CIO faces in healthcare.

“We are also creating professional development plans with the BCS and we are creating data scientists with the University College London (UCL),” Thomas said of the skills gap strategy he is pursuing.
Thomas has been with the NHS for 10 years now and is widely recognised for his achievements at UCLH.

“When I joined the NHS 10 years ago they were 20 years behind anyone else in the use of technology. I was told one day, not long after starting, that the datacentre was being shut down again. This was a non-secure datacentre that anyone could walk into, and the bucket collecting water from the racks air-conditioning had been knocked over onto the electrics,” he said of the scale of transformation he has had to lead at UCLH.

“I still have 350 systems and I would gladly get rid of 250 of if I could,” he said.

Thomas described how the health technology challenge is following the lines of consumerisation with Bring Your Own Medical Device and that in the new Macmillan Cancer Ward that UCLH developed in partnership with the cancer charity there are 44 million machine-to-machine interactions taking place.
“Self monitoring technology is already in use for multiple sclerosis, heart disease and diabetes patients, including the use of social tools,” Thomas said, adding that the App stores are awash with health apps that will create challenges for the medical profession.

But Thomas cited that the rise of consumer technology in healthcare will bring more benefits that harm as the data provides CIOs with opportunities to really benefit organisations.

“I have 2000 healthcare consultants at the UCLH and they are at the top of their game, so we have innovation coming at us all the time and for me it is always about where technology is benefiting well being.

“Early in my career I worked for water utilities and we were one of the first to use geographic information systems (GIS) and soil quality technology to map the acidity of soil and the amount of the water network that was using metal pipes. Metal pipes in acidic soil will corrode faster, so that data drove the change and negotiations with the regulator regarding budgets for this major project.”