How Expo inspired me

As registrations open for the 2019 Health and Innovation Expo, the Programme Director at NHS Digital explains how last year’s event changed his perspective:   

I attended Expo last year for the first time, wondering if it would be worth the trip from Leeds.

Well, to be honest, I knew it would be. After all, Matt Hancock would be giving the keynote address and his passion for the potential of digital technology and data is, to say the least, unusual for a Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

But before I had the chance to hear one of the most specific speeches on the strategy for government about the vision behind the next ten years, I entered the hall and had two immediate impressions. First was the sheer scale of innovation and ideas about transforming the NHS and transferring care using new technology backed by new skills at all levels. Second was the strong sense of community between the people attending and presenting; shared goals to make care and health better and a shared experience of what it means to be part of something as huge as the NHS and Social Care sectors.

Wandering around while I sipped a coffee and considered which presentations to organise my day around, I saw colleagues and people working for organisations I knew smiling and helping each other. I felt welcomed everywhere I went even though the halls were large, and the variety of interests showed the sheer diversity of the NHS and its biggest suppliers.

The panel session on technology in health and care set the tone for the whole event, with the senior leaders up on stage and some frank and challenging questions from the audience. The answers from Dr Simon Eccles, Matthew Swindells, Will Smart and the other presenters were equally frank and focussed on looking to the future whilst acknowledging where some parts of the system are coming from today.

Next, I went to the presentations by the Global Digital Exemplars in Acute Care and was impressed by the thought and ideas which went into the first of the transformation blueprints for use by Fast Followers. What really impressed me was that so many ideas and experiences went into the blueprints. This was not just about the technology but about the way that change had been communicated, issues raised by front-line staff and many practical tips on the human aspects of making new ways of working stick by changing what we believe is possible.

I was also taken by the energy and enthusiasm of the presenters, who were mostly from the Exemplars, such as Cambridge University Hospital, who were very positive about their work to share knowledge and the programme.

Over the period of the Expo there were more than 40 sessions run on the HealthTech Zone, a partnership by NHS England and NHS Digital. This meant there was too much going on for one day’s visit, but if you are going this year, my advice is to wear comfortable shoes and make the time to spend two days, if you can.

These events are also about networking, with colleagues away from their day jobs and the sheer number of topics to discuss, providing the ideal way to renew old friendships and make new ones. The scale of the event and the compact nature of the exhibitions makes both unexpected and planned meetings easy, with each new presentation or exhibit providing exciting topics to discuss.

Expo really has it all. From the human kindness and compassion shown from the large numbers of stands offering free healthy snacks and fruit to free mineral water and somewhere to rest between the next venue and the lively discussion or question and answer session.

There is a new positivism about the potential of technology and data to make a significant contribution to changing the economics, the barriers to better transfers of care and the empowerment of professionals in front line and research roles. We are starting to see in practice how technology and data can solve problems faster, provide new insights and support better informed decisions.

These ideas no longer seem like science fiction, such as the pivotal role of machine learning in eye disease diagnosis or the life sciences using ever lower cost genome mapping. I left the Expo filled with a sense of the possible and of being part of something much bigger than just the organisation I work for. Not just what we do alone but much more importantly, what we can do together.

I’ve just registered for Expo 2019 and am feeling excited at the prospect of not just the same inspiring presentations, exhibitors, theatres and the Pop-Up Universities, but hearing how the NHS Long Term Plan will be brought to life. This will be the major theme of Expo this year and the ambitious vision will need all of us working in the NHS to play our part.

Kevin Parry

Kevin Parry is a Programme Director at NHS Digital and specialises in portfolio risk and assurance on digital transformation and data programmes.

He has worked in both private and public sector roles leading teams to deliver or advise on transformation at scale. He is a fellow of APM, the chartered body for project professionals, an Oxford University Business Alumnus and a guest lecturer at the University of Manchester on the MSc course in Management of Projects.

Kevin is passionate about NHS technology making a positive difference to social care and health outcomes, as well as improving the working lives of health and care professionals through better information and data.

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