Wendy Dearing, a FEDIP Leading Practitioner and Head of Workforce and Organisational Development for NHS Wales Informatics Service, talks about the need for standards and professional registration in informatics.

From booking GP appointments through to using AI to predict and prevent serious medical conditions, the use of technology is affecting all areas of the NHS.

In this changing world, health informaticians and informatics professionals are central to this transformation of patient care. But, unlike doctors and nurses, informaticians have no mandatory licence to practice. There is, however, momentum building for these staff to become professionally registered.

The Federation for Informatics Professionals (FEDIP) is made up of four professional bodies. Each supports the development of knowledge and skills in health informaticians.

FEDIP collectively sets standards across the industry and maintains a public register which demonstrates the professional competency of informatics staff.

NHS Wales is leading the way in getting people to sign up to FEDIP. Claire Penketh, from BCS - one of the professional bodies involved in FEDIP - spoke to Professor Wendy Dearing.

Dearing holds an MSc in Change and Innovation and has recently been awarded an honorary professorship from the University of Wales, Trinity St David. The professorship in applied practice was awarded in recognition of Dearing’s expertise, knowledge and her championing of professionalism in technology and information.

Tell me a little bit about your career

I qualified as a nurse, many years ago and then moved into the private sector when I had my children and ended up as a clinical teacher for the Nuffield Group of Hospitals.

I saw an advert to go back into the NHS to set up NVQ qualifications for health and social care. So, I suspect there is a part of me that has always been a bit of rebel because, at the time when NVQs were being implemented, it was all about ‘are they demeaning to our profession?’ But, I believed they would enhance our profession.

Two hundred and eighty one nurses are now qualified around the Brighton area because of going through the Level 3 NVQ and of getting their diplomas in nursing. I came through the vocational approach, supporting people’s opportunities and creative career development route, so it’s a training route I feel passionate about.

Is the health service special?

I have this conversation with myself regularly. On the one hand, health isn’t special - people work in IT. But we are dealing with patients’ data, their health records, and making systems that if we got wrong, would have a profound effect on that person.

You must have seen a lot change in the NHS, especially around digitisation?

Yes, even though I haven’t been in mainstream nursing, I think I’ve seen the changes and the benefits of using technology. For instance, you can book your doctor’s appointment online now. You can get your repeat prescriptions and people expect that.

People do want access to their health records and for me, it’s about people taking care of their health and well-being. I think it’s a good thing that we do more to digitalise things for people, so they can take control of the bigger wider world of their health and wellbeing.

I’ve come from a world of paper-based systems and I can fully understand nurses saying, ‘technology takes me away from my patients’. For me, some of that is about the culture but working in universities is all about enhancing the curriculum so that technology can assist nurses in delivering clinical care.

Why is FEDIP so important to you?

It’s probably because I’m older and I’ve been around a long time. For me, nursing is about making sure we are not compromising patient safety. Health informatics is all about the patient too.

I prefer ‘the citizen’ because 'the patient' has connotations of being ill. This is not always the case if you think back to the agenda of health and wellbeing.

We work in a discipline where we are making and deploying systems for the patients and staff in Wales. All that comes with roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for our staff. They must work professionally. I see the registration as one aspect. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but it’s one aspect of getting people to think about, not only their career opportunities and developments, but also how they keep updated and revalidated.

Should FEDIP be mandatory in the health service, similar to the licence to practice required for medical staff?

Not at this stage. But, it would be desirable to have registration as a first step for job applicants. In time, there should be a cultural step-change to make it an essential requirement.

If we want to be sitting at the top table - working with people from other professions, be that finance, or medicine - then we need to be there with the same professionalism accountabilities, actions and behaviour as those colleagues.

Is NHS Wales going in the right direction?

Yes, and I think Wales has got the right building blocks. We’ve got underpinning qualifications, we’ve got educational programmes and we’ve got the appetite for career opportunities. We know there are three thousand health informaticians staff in Wales and that, that is growing. So, it’s about supporting staff with their journey. I fundamentally believe we are doing the right thing in Wales.

Could NHS Wales be a pilot programme for other large organisations to show the way to improve the professionalism of health informaticians?

Wales is small enough and unique enough to do that. We’ve had conversations with some big organisations that would like us to become a testbed as they see the size and the uniqueness of Wales. The environment is sound for that and there is a consensus that Wales could become a testbed for other organisations.

Finally - if someone is thinking of registering with FEDIP - what’s in it for them?

I think one of our colleagues summed it up quite nicely. It’s about taking control of the opportunities, in a supportive environment and organisation, to become accountable and to think and act professionally.

The Federation for Informatics Professionals (FEDIP) in health and social care brings individuals and organisations together to unlock potential in the informatics community. Through registration you can take your place on the FEDIP public register.

Credit: Wendy Dearing