“Let me share why I think this change is important” – NHSD CEO takes to Twitter to discuss the merger

Simon Bolton, the current CEO of NHS Digital, has taken to Twitter to address the reaction to proposed plans that will see the organisation merged into NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI), along with NHSX, as part of a wider set of reforms announced by the UK Government for digital, data and tech in healthcare.

The current CEO of NHS Digital will be appointed to the role of Chief Information Officer for NHSEI, and also join the NHSEI Executive Committee, with a recommendation for the move, as well as wider aims for the reshuffle, laid out in the Laura Wade-Gery review.

In a personal post on Twitter, Simon decided to set the record straight by sharing his thoughts on why the planned merger is necessary. Speaking to followers and fellow health and tech professionals, his tweet said, “I’ve seen a lot of commentary about the merger of #NHSDigital, #NHSE, and #NHSX. Let me share why I think this change is important.”

The social media thread covered a number of points, with Simon explaining some of the thinking behind the decision, as well as the potential benefits, and it also allowed other Twitter users to have their say.

Writing about the reasons for bringing NHS Digital and NHSX together, under the umbrella of NHSE/I, Simon said: “The overhead of getting 3 separate organisations, each with their own brand, strategy and governance is simply too great to justify. In terms of #agile it’s waste.”

He added: “I don’t know a successful organisation anywhere in the world that would countenance having tech strategy and operational strategy set in different places.

“The NHS needs coherent, consistent leadership on tech if it is to survive and thrive. Feedback I get from the system is that, until now, our messaging is often not aligned and causes confusion and frustration.”

The case for being just one, collaborative team focused on digital, tech and innovation, he suggested, was made during the COVID-19 pandemic. On this he stated: “Lessons we learned from COVID showed that we make huge progress very quickly when we have policy, operations and tech teams working as a single team focused on delivering real outcomes. Just look at solutions delivered for vaccinations / COVIDpass.”

Although Simon did acknowledge that, “Merging NHS Digital, NHSE and NHSX in itself doesn’t fix these problems, but it creates the conditions necessary for resolving them.”

The CEO concluded, “Why now while the NHS is dealing with massive pressures? Because the NHS needs tight alignment between the operation and tech now more than ever so it can deliver real value (improved outcomes) quickly.”

Simon’s thread received a number of comments and interactions, with one Twitter user stating, “Completely agree @simonrbolton now is the time to redesign, improve and make changes no matter how small, that incrementally build toward better operational and experiential services that fits the needs and expectations of the users on all sides.”

Another person wrote: “Consolidation and rationalisation is absolutely needed; consistency of strategic direction will also help and hopefully drive better outcomes. This is another significant opportunity for a truly digital organisation to be established at the heart of public sector delivery!!!”

Other responses included, “It’s a long time overdue. The unification of messaging and thought with the front line would be welcomed.”

One commentator also made some suggestions, adding: “I’m excited to see how this will shake down, but think it’s absolutely the right thing to do. What innovators/providers would love to see is a reassuring level of domain expertise amongst the senior team though (particularly in AI/Machine Learning).”

Another said: “And if we want digital and training to be seen for what they are : core business – we can’t separate them out. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges but we need all these fantastic individual strands to join up to make one amazing fibreoptic superstrand solution!”

However, some comments were less receptive, and used the thread instead to highlight their concerns.

One person in particular wondered what these developments would mean for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, noting: “But it still doesn’t join up NHSE and counterparts in the other devolved nations – while there are rightly differences because of the nature of devolution there’s a lot more in common in the world of digital & innovation – I had hoped that X would have been able to bridge the gap.”


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