Balvinder Heran was recently appointed to the position of Joint Strategic Director of Information Assets and Digital Development by Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC), Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust (BHT) and NHS Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group. In this wide ranging role, she will be responsible for the IT strategy across all three of these groups.
Before accepting this position, Heran was the director of ICT at the London Borough of Hounslow. “I went to work in London because I wanted to work somewhere that had real deprivation and much wider communities," she said. "In Hounslow, there were 133 different languages and completely different issues. So I wanted to experience what that would mean in terms of digital development and encouraging customers to access services in different ways.”
Her new role offers the opportunity to apply her extensive experience to different challenges. “When I saw this role, I saw a real opportunity to use my skills for something that crosses over, and particularly is supporting the most vulnerable,” she said.
In her previous position, she interviewed many of the community's most needy patients. “And their biggest issue was they wanted to live independently as long as they could in their own homes. They didn't want to travel long journeys to get the healthcare and support they needed.”
Heran advocates against merely providing the minimum level of care. “Quite often we forget that caring is not about making sure somebody's washed and cleaned and has got their medication or has had their meal,” she says. “It's actually, if you're living on your own, that's the only person you see, and they only come in and do the clinical stuff because that's all the time they've got."
“For me, I would like, through the use of digital and advanced IT developments, to be able to release that capacity for the front line staff to be able to spend that time, because isolation and loneliness I think are big contributing factors to the health and wellbeing of our population.”
She is careful about what technological intervention should aim to achieve. “Quite often when you talk to counsellors, they will say we're putting this online or we're doing that online.”
But to Heran, this is an oversimplification of the needs of the community. "I see digital as an enabler. I don't see simply saying to someone, okay, you can book your appointments online now and you can track your appointments. It isn't about that. It's much more about going down to the personalised level."
Heran looks forward to involving every element of the community in her plans for better healthcare. “One of my first tasks is to bring together a joint strategy," she said. "But I want that strategy to be a living, breathing document that tells every stakeholder what it will mean for them. So it won't be written in a technical way. It will be something that says, you're a stakeholder. You have a part to play in this.
"I want people to talk to me about the services they get and how they would like to reshape them. And I think also getting communities involved and helping them to help each other will also play a big part.”