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Feature: Mark Howie of LIMA talks digital transformation and EPR rollout at Gloucestershire NHS FT

On 14 September 2021, between 11:30am – 12:30pm, LIMA, an IT managed service provider, co-hosted a lunchtime webinar with health tech professionals from Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, to explain how they supported the organisation’s transformation programme and electronic patient record (EPR) roll-out, using VMware’s Cloud Foundation software.

To view the video of LIMA’s exclusive Q&A with representatives from Gloucestershire NHS on 14 September, click here.

As well as sharing insight into the re-shaping, development, and implementation of services for the future, the online session included Q&A session with Mark Hutchinson, Executive Chief Digital and Information Officer at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS FT, and Martin Hosken, Chief Technologist of Cloud Services at VMware.

Mark Howie, Senior Accounts Director at LIMA, also took part in the virtual event, representing the company, sharing his experiences of working with Gloucestershire, and quizzing his co-panellists.

To find out about the Q&A, as well as more about LIMA’s work with the trust and other collaborations within the health tech sphere, HTN caught up with Mark for a quick chat ahead of the live session.

Mark, who has been with LIMA for nearly a decade, began his career in IT telesales over 20 years ago before progressing to strategic account management, working as an advisor to customers and helping organisations to develop and implement their technology roadmaps in line with their business strategy.

“The idea is that IT is an enabler of outcomes”

“The key thing, when we’re making decisions around technology, is to understand business direction, strategy, and to ensure that the tech decisions underpin that direction. If you don’t do that then it won’t be a sound investment,” he said, setting out how LIMA works with NHS trusts and healthcare providers.

Having previously worked with commercial clients, Mark gravitated towards the public sector and is part of LIMA’s dedicated NHS team, which he now spearheads.

“We’ve worked with a number of trusts over the last four or five years, developing IT solutions and roadmaps to underpin their digital transformation journeys. Like any industry – healthcare is no different – IT is at the centre of how they are driving efficiencies and moving forward,” he explained. “Obviously people are very important, more important than IT, but the idea is that IT is an enabler of outcomes, it’s making people’s lives better and giving frontline staff the ability to deliver their services as quickly as possible.”

“It’s an industry that’s close to my heart,” he continued, “it sounds a bit corny but while it’s great to help businesses grow, become more efficient and profitable, there’s nothing better than the technology you’re seeing being delivered into healthcare actually give better outcomes to people. Some of the things we’ve done with Gloucestershire have done that in a very short space of time and it makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, it really does, it’s very rewarding.”

“From laggard to leader”

On how LIMA began working with Gloucestershire NHS on its digital journey, Mark provided some background to the Q&A session. Explaining a “two-and-a-half-year story condensed into a few minutes”, Mark said: “We just went for a coffee with the Head of IT [from the trust] and one of his technical colleagues, and it was clear that they had challenges.

“Gloucestershire was in a position where it was struggling to deliver services. The current CDIO [Hutchinson] doesn’t have any qualms in saying that they’ve gone from ‘laggard to leader’ or calling out the fact that they were poor at delivering services and had a poor reputation in the area.

“He was brought in to transform the hospital and how they deliver services. They highlighted that IT could be at the forefront of that and that it should be.”

He added: “The idea of an EPR is to digitise records, to move the patients through the hospital as quickly as possible and get them the right care that they need. But a lot of periphery enablement projects were required to ensure that EPR would work in the long-term.”

Insight-led approach

After engaging with key stakeholders, such as the Head of IT, to understand the long-term vision and objectives, Mark and his LIMA team took a consultative approach to gain as much insight as they could into what the Trust was aiming to achieve.

As Gloucestershire had a five year strategy (2019-24) to reach HIMSS level 6 (from a starting point of 0.2), the direction was taken for a new EPR and infrastructure, as part of its “driving value for money” approach. They also needed the ability to support shared services, to be in line with aims around Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) and give GPs, mental health and social care access to the same data.

“They also aspired to be able to consume cloud services in the future,” Mark explained, “whatever procurement decisions they made around IT had to support that in the future – it was a five-year plan.”

Following a series of workshops to look through different types of technology, what vendors had to offer, what other NHS trusts were doing, and what had and hadn’t worked for others, LIMA and the trust’s stakeholders settled on VMware’s cloud foundation platform, which could be scaled out and built upon to cover both hospitals within the trust.

“We couldn’t predict a pandemic, but we were fortunate we picked this technology”

After delivering the platform within five months, the following EPR roll-out by the trust was then delivered in an apparent ‘record time’ of six months, and the trust has also since been able to offer collaborative solutions to local GP surgeries, through the shared system.

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, the new capabilities also meant that LIMA could help Gloucestershire to “mobilise and help over 2,000 employees to work from home in nine days,” added Mark. Staff were still able to “keep the hospital operational in a rapid turnaround and have remote consultations”, with one key development being the ability to offer 3D scans of cancer patients remotely.

“We couldn’t predict a pandemic, but we were fortunate we picked this technology and the ability it gave them to adapt and change and respond was absolutely fantastic, really powerful. We were fortunate the investment came a year early [before COVID],” he said.

“I talked about bad press – we’ve [now] got snippets from local news and radio about the fact that they have turned it around and the community has got more confidence in walking into the hospital. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.”

“He understands the pain points, the pinch points, what technology works”

On what leaders will get from attending the full live session about Gloucestershire NHS FT’s transformation programme, Mark added that the benefits include: “Hearing from Mark Hutchinson. He’s an award-winning CDIO – not just for the work he’s done at Gloucestershire but also the work he’s done at South Manchester and Salford, as well. You’ll get to hear how [Gloucestershire] have now become a Digital Aspirant in the two-and-a-half-years he’s been working there.

“Secondly, and equally as importantly, Martin Hosken is Chief Technologist at VMware – he’s a leading figure in cloud services, globally. He’s got lots of experience working with the NHS and understands the pain points, the pinch points, what technology works and what doesn’t, and what’s next on the agenda. He’s going to share some of his insights in working with other NHS trusts and where he sees the future for IT in healthcare.”

Following talks by Mark [Hutchinson] and Martin [Hosken] on NHS challenges and health tech trends, Mark [Howie] and Martin Ingham [LIMA’s Technical Director] will take to the virtual stage to discuss their work, ahead of a planned panel Q&A about the Gloucestershire case study and an ‘open floor’ session where the audience can ask questions.

View the full video of LIMA’s exclusive Q&A with representatives from Gloucestershire NHS on 14 September, here.