Interview Series: Ayesha Rahim, CCIO, Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS FT

In our latest interview series, Angela Sharda speaks to Dr Ayesha Rahim, CCIO, psychiatrist and deputy medical director of Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust about the importance of technology during the global pandemic, her role as CCIO and her involvement in the Shuri Network.

Talk us through your journey of becoming a CCIO?

I’ve been in the post for less than three years – prior to that I was working full-time as an NHS consultant psychiatrist. Nobody goes to medical school to be anything other than a doctor and look after patients, so being a psychiatrist has always been my first passion.

Around three years ago the opportunity arose for me to become a deputy medical director for my organisation and that was also tied in with the CCIO post for the trust. We had CCIOs in the past and I looked at the job description and thought that sounds interesting but I had no idea as to how much of a big role it would play in my working life, three years down the line.

My passion lies within service transformation and working in a way that is more efficient and provides the best care for patients. I believe it is all about providing the best quality care for patients and my passion is about service transformation.

How do you manage all your roles?

It’s such a juggling act and I am never sure that I get the balance quite right but the key is to be as flexible as possible. There are times when my clinical work will be a big part of my working week and other times it will be the CCIO role. You do the best you can really.

Talk us through some of the projects that you have worked on in the last 12 months?

Prior to Covid-19 we were deploying our new electronic patient record (EPR) system. We have been digitising our clinical records for about 15 years but we were on a home-grown system which reached the end of its usefulness and we felt as an organisation we needed something different to meet our needs. We decided to move over to an EPR system called Rio, which alot of mental health trusts use.

We cover the entire population of Lancashire and South Cumbria; we have 400 sites and employ approximately 7,000 members of staff. Therefore, we decided to do a staggered implementation of Rio but then Covid-19 hit, so we decided to do some deployment in some places but we are still working through how we are going to roll out the rest of Rio to the organisation. Rio is a fantastic project to work on – this involves working closely with the clinical teams with patients best interests in mind.

We had implemented the new system called Attend Anywhere with around 700 NHS staff at the trust presently able to do online consultations. This allows regular appointments to take place even if patients or NHS professionals are self-isolating – to help people with mental health issues.

We were really lucky that we had gone through some of the process before Covid-19. What we are aware of is that people still need to access mental health services, in fact we will be expecting a big surge in mental health demand and we need to ensure we still deliver a great service but in a way that both our patients and staff stay safe.

What impact has Covid-19 had on digital health within the NHS and how have you been able to overcome these barriers?

If you speak to anybody in digital health, they will tell you that we have made more progress in digital health transformation in this last month than in the last ten years. Technology in health is suddenly on everyone’s radar and they are all keen to understand how it can help deliver better care.

We have lots of demand within our organisation asking how to deploy technologies. One of the main challenges we are faced with is extra demand. To deal with this we have created a digital response to Covid-19 work stream, where we have representatives on a call ranging from our clinical networks, operational managers and IT colleagues. After that, we collectively decide on what the priorities should be because we can’t do everything in one week and therefore we need to make some choices. At the moment we are working very closely with our clinical colleagues and the digital health department – it’s where the magic lies when those two things collide.

The driving force is not what is most technologically convenient but what is best for our patients. Having fantastic collaboration with our colleagues is key during these times.

A logistical challenge at this time is that we have had a greater number of the workforce who are requesting to work from home; there has been a greater demand on the kit required. The VPN issue has been a very live issue for us because people need to be able to do their work reliably if they are at home. We are also looking at the alternatives – if we can’t provide people with kits how can we help them use their own devices to log onto our systems.

Health tech staff are often the unsung heroes of the NHS, they keep the wheels turning and the lights switched on.

Everyone is talking about the ‘new normal’ and it is really important that we retain all the great things that we are doing during the global pandemic for later. After Covid-19, one of the things we will be looking at is how we are going to empower staff to be able to work differently, which allows them to be more productive.

Talk us through your involvement within the Shuri Network and your views on the representation of BAME women in leadership roles within the NHS. 

The aim of the network is to improve the opportunities and visibility available to BAME women in the health tech space. We offer incentives such as mentoring, bursaries and information such as, podcasts and newsletters. 

The group is formed on the basis that our systems, networks and processes reflect the population that we serve and NHS staff. We’ve had a great deal of support from allies because this is everybody’s business and not the sole job of BAME women to solve. I am part of the regional spearing group for the Shuri Network – it’s a grass roots organisation and it’s coming up to two years.

It’s good to have a network of people who understand and know what it is like to being perhaps the only Asian female in the room – a situation that I often find myself in but knowing that there are other people that who understand this are important. The great thing is you don’t need to be from a BAME background to sign up to the network, we welcome support from allies too. I am very proud of what has been achieved in a short space of time.

There are some long-standing issues around BAME representation in the NHS. The WRES team within the NHS do a fab job but there is more work to be done. Unless organisations take the bull by its horns and lead from the top of organisations and embed equality, diversity and inclusion in their strategic objectives then there is very little change that happens. 

What would your advice be to aspiring CCIOs and leaders within the NHS?

If you’re passionate about what you are doing – perserve. Link in with your peers and find out what is happening in your region within digital health. Share your good practice; learn from others and by doing this you will see that you have something valuable to offer.