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Salford Royal Group's Rachel Dunscombe with Manchester City Council CIO Bob Brown

Salford Royal Group Director of Digital Rachel Dunscombe said that technology can save the NHS, and that her CIO role is to act as an ambassador and 'Babel fish' after she was named in the top three of the 2017 CIO 100.

Dunscombe was previously recognised in the higher echelons of the 2016 edition of the CIO 100 for her roles as CIO at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, where she helped deliver the highest cost savings in the NHS.

She has since been made CIO of the broader Salford Royal Group, one of four high-performing trusts granted exemplar status by the NHS to champion new models of healthcare provision, and more recently appointed Director of Digital - an expanded role looking after acute hospitals in the Pennine region as well as on-boarding social care.

Dunscombe said that the acknowledgement in the CIO 100 was also a wider recognition of how other CIOs in the NHS were upping their games. "A number of us CIOs have been pushing on professionalism in the NHS and this is part of what we need to show that we can deliver great digital in the public sector," she said.

CIO 100 - Platforms and ecosystems

Indeed, the CIO 100 panel recognised Salford Royal Group and Dunscombe as public sector leaders involved in platforms, developing digital startup ecosystems, and pushing innovation agendas.

CIO 100 panel member Ian Cox said that some in the public sector, with Dunscombe and Leeds City Council Chief Digital and Information Officer Dylan Roberts in particular leading the way, clearly understood the value of working with startups, and using the startup and SME community to tackle business problems in new and creative ways.

"They are doing a lot more than running headline-grabbing hackathons or throwing cash into a lab or incubator project," he said. "They are engaging with the wider community, building, facilitating and leading ecosystems that create value for all members, and partnering with companies to build real solutions that are having a positive impact on people's lives."

Dunscombe acknowledged that strong vendor relationships with startups and the big IT houses was crucial to creating the platforms and ecosystems that will eventually benefit patients.

"In order to achieve our goals for healthcare we have truly partnered with a number of vendors big and small," Dunscombe said.

"What has been important, regardless of size or geography, is an understanding of each other's business, mutual respect, a building of trust and creating something new together that benefit both parties. My job has been to carefully choose partners based on their values and behaviours."

Salford Royal made huge strides in its back-end and front-end technology and IT during 2016. A single Azure architecture across eight hospitals was set up along with a single Trust domain, a seamless WiFi network was implemented, the creation of a new UX lab, a significant storage migration, the rolling out of services on to mobile devices and digital systems, and also the Dunscombe-led Mobilise the NHS programme to create new digital products.

CIO 100 - Joining the dots

Recognised as one the most digitally mature organisations in the NHS, Dunscombe said that most of the hospital is now paperless and that technology was "doing bigger and better things every day" like improving outcomes by standardising patient pathways.

"This in turn has been proven to save lives and improve outcomes," she said. "We are also doing more work with the Internet of Things, digital, and lots of fun stuff."

Dunscombe said that citizens themselves were the biggest asset that the NHS has, and that technology is the best platform for citizens to self-care. Concerning the CIO role, at the CIO 100 celebration Dunscombe said that acting as an ambassador and communicator, and nurturing a strong team were key attributes for CIOs.

"It's about nurturing talent; this a team sport and no CIO ever did this by themselves," she said.

"The CIO role is joining the dots, being the ambassador and being the person who makes the connections. I feel like I am the Babel fish sometimes from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - I'm getting the language translated between different groups."