The Federation for Informatics Professionals (FEDIP) has a new CEO. Andrew Griffiths was the Chief Information Officer for NHS Wales and managing director of the NHS Wales Informatics Service, delivering the Informing Healthcare Strategy before taking on his new role. He has a degree in computer science and by his own admission, came into the NHS more by chance than design - soon realising he’d found his true calling.
Tell me a bit about how and why you joined the NHS
‘I did a degree in computing, then applied for a job that was on offer when I left university in 1989. You could say I ended up in health by accident. But, I‘ve loved it and enjoyed working for the NHS and that sense you get that what you do can make a difference.
‘Having been recruited for my IT skills, I quickly found that I enjoyed understanding how the service worked, so I joined the graduate management training scheme and that gave me exposure to a wide variety of jobs within health. ‘But I found that I always come back to the application of IT and the difference that technology can make to patient care.’
You were very much credited with taking forward the digital transformation of NHS Wales, delivering the Informing Health Care strategy - why was this needed?
‘All our public services can be improved with the use of digital technology and the way that health care is delivered is complex. We can all tell stories of how our experiences with the NHS could have been better if the right information had been passed on before we arrived, or of unnecessary or mistimed appointments.
‘The NHS is a large and complex organisation and is inclined to want to do things the way they have always done - even if the reason for doing it that way has changed. Health services have historically been designed to unite the patient with their paper notes and the clinician. That was a logistical challenge and involved lots of labour-intensive processes to achieve. Technology now means that we can redesign the services we offer without that constraint - but letting go of our preconceptions of what care looks like can be difficult.
‘The technology is challenging and needs continued investment but the digital transformation, service redesign and people are the hardest to get right. ‘It’s an exciting time to be part of that change and there’s a long way to go, but things are really changing and that will only accelerate as we get to learn more about the outcomes of care and treatments and the huge potential to see digital not just supporting care, but being the care!’
What was your reaction to your appointment as FEDIP CEO?
‘I’m obviously pleased to get the job and it’s a great opportunity to take forward the whole professionalism agenda within health. I’m delighted to be able to play my part in this.’
What are your plans for FEDIP?
‘Firstly, I want to make sure that we are clear about our goals and the steps required to get there. The work to get the basics right has been done and we need to build on that by encouraging individuals to sign up to one of the professional bodies and get registered. The plan will look at how we can accelerate registration and demonstrate the difference it can make.
‘That also means moving to a sustainable financial model, so we can be confident that we can continue to operate and expand our capabilities.’
Should it mandatory to sign up to FEDIP?
‘If we want to be treated as equals with the other professions in healthcare, then we will need to demonstrate that we are professionals. I hope everyone will recognise the value in that and make the effort to get registered. I can certainly see that registration will soon be seen as highly desirable and an advantage when applying for a job or promotion.
‘The business plan we are developing will look at the options for registration and engage with the NHS to see how we can speed up the move to professional standing. One of those options will be to become like other professions in the NHS who have to be registered to prove their competency and continuing development.’
Should it be mandatory to have chief information officers on health boards?
‘I think there needs to be someone who is responsible for digital on the boards of all organisations involved in health and care; that person should be competent to carry out that responsibility. ‘There are lots of different types and sizes of organisations and mandating a CIO is probably not the right approach, but making sure that the skills are available on the board will be a key challenge.’
Should there be a national digital strategy as far as the NHS itself is concerned and how could it happen?
‘I think there are lots of ways this could happen. I think there should be an approach that the records are centred around the patient, not the institution. It’s all about improving patient care and to do that, all the information about the patients should be brought together, regardless of the institution, so whoever is treating them has all the information needed.’
It’s not just about notes, it’s also about patients’ treatment - one of the key areas that informaticians work in - how do you see that area developing?
‘Increasingly, the information that we’re collecting will be used to direct patient care and to make sure that patients are getting the most out of their treatment. The growth of AI techniques and their ability to improve care is critical.
‘Digital services will transform the NHS and the data about care is a largely unexploited resource. The NHS is in a great position to make the best use of this information and can lead the world in these developments.
What can FEDIP offer to improve the professional status of informaticians?
‘You have to be a professional in order to be FEDIP registered, which has criteria to show you have the right skillset.
'FEDIP brings together all branches of informatics, built on shared standards, so our public, our patients and our care professionals can have full confidence that the people they deal with are true professionals. FEDIP will also work with its members to formulate policy on issues affecting informatics in health and social care and ensure that, that voice is heard at all levels.’
Are you thinking of simplifying the process to sign up to FEDIP?
‘It’s currently not as obvious as it could be – people have to look for it, or their organisation encourages them to do so. In short, it could be easier than it is. We will be making sure that there is clarity on how you join and providing clearer comms materials to help speed up the process.’