Let's Talk, Primary Care News

Dr Nicole Atkinson on Nottingham ICS, digital primary care and more

Welcome back to our podcast HTN Let’s Talk!

In this episode we interview Dr Nicole Atkinson, the South Notts Place Clinical Lead and NHS Confederation Primary Care Medical Advisor and GP. We talk about her role and career in healthcare, Nottingham ICS, digital primary care and much more.

To start off, Nicole explained what her role entails and her day-to-day work: “I’ve been a GP for quite a long time, 20 years, working in Nottingham. I’ve grown up being a partner in a practice, but a number of years ago I got involved with our Clinical Commissioning Groups, so I’ve had a background in commissioning in our local area. That’s opened lots of doors and avenues.”

Nicole described her wide range of experience in healthcare as “never dull” as she always keen to learn new things. “If there is an opportunity offered, an ability to learn something, I’m the first one to put my hand up,” she said.

She added that she doesn’t have to have to be a practising clinician to understand the opportunities and challenges that clinicians face. “What I’m always looking for is continuous improvement, never standing still, doing the right thing for patients. If you can keep that as your guiding compass, no matter what role you are in you can influence it to move it in that direction.”

In regards to the digital projects she is working on at the moment, she highlighted the work taking place in South Nottinghamshire. “There is a lot of work around supporting the NHS App and using that as our patient front door. We have imbedded something called ‘Patient Knows Best’ as part of the app that sits underneath. And really, that is to be the local navigation system into health and care.

“We are very fortunate in that we are piloting some digital inclusion officer roles. This is a new role we have employed in our primary care network – so they will be working within neighbourhoods to really support our patients and citizens to start to understand if there are people in our population that need support.”

As for the challenges and what went well, Nicole explained that building trust and relationships must happen, which they have achieved at a place level. “People are much more comfortable with the idea of sharing data, looking at one version of the truth and look at how we tackle issues together. I think that has worked really well, but it’s still really hard.”

Next, the topic of conversation moved to the integrated care system in Nottingham. Nicole discussed work around “developing something called the System Analytical Intelligence Unit”, adding that she believes this work places the ICS in good standing for what is to come. She continued: “This is because we have GPRCC, meaning all of the GPs in our ICS have shared their data into a repository – not just GPs but other NHS providers and organisations within our system. This means we have really timely data, which is an absolute game changer.”

On working differently in primary care, she said: “Most people will go into their GP practice, they will see somebody that practises within that surgery, and they will have that interaction. Nowadays, things are changing. What you will find is that GPs and surgeries are collaborating together to offer services across a much wider footprint. So you might not be going into your own surgery, you might be going somewhere else. I think we will see that growing and growing.”

Speaking about the challenges in primary care IT at the moment, Nicole stated that it’s often something simple: “You go from one end of the spectrum to the other. If you talk to many GPs, sometimes [the challenge] is just switching on a computer and having it working that day.”

Another challenge can be clinical systems crashing, leaving staff unable to access patient records or input data. “That is the basic nuts and bolts that you might think are easy to fix, but actually it relates to some of the infrastructure we have already got,” Nicole commented.

Speaking on the future and her vision of digital primary care, Nicole said: “There is something about that relationship between the two. We’ve been doing a lot of work between our large acute provider and primary care within our place to build trust and relationships. What is it that we want to do together? Where can we make some quick wins? As you start to build trust and do things together, you want to see some tangible outputs of your endeavours.

“One of the things we did throughout the COVID pandemic was to work with secondary care sharing data, so that actually when patients were turning up in emergency departments or outpatients, they were able to identify patients who hadn’t been vaccinated. What’s good about this is that they could do a warm handover to the vaccination centre in the hospital. That’s not something we have done before, but we realised if we could do it for that, what else could we do it for?”

Many thanks to Nicole for joining us!