Interview, NP

Interview: “I think the most important thing is to have that MDT approach and to absolutely have clinical people embedded in your digital teams” – Natalie Hayes, CNIO at Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals

In a recent HTN interview, we spoke with Natalie Hayes, CNIO at Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (MWL) NHS Trust, about digital projects, priorities, and challenges.

We first asked Natalie to tell us a bit about her current role. She shared that after having spent time as a diabetes specialist nurse, she moved into a role as CNIO at St Helens and Knowsley, prior to its coming together with Southport and Ormskirk to form what is now Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

“I currently work as chief nurse information officer at Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospital Trust, covering all five hospital sites alongside our community services. I mainly focus on representing the nursing workforce within the trust, from a digital perspective, advocating for digital innovation and championing user focused digital transformation.”

On what drew her into digital, Natalie said: “I think whenever you speak to any digital clinicians, a lot of them “fell into” the job, and I definitely fell into it. In my diabetes specialist nursing role, I took the lead on patient wearable technology, so insulin pumps and blood glucose monitoring, and I had a real interest and passion for digital technology, because I could see how it was improving patient’s lives. I was browsing our internal jobs in the trust and this post came up, and I feel very privileged to have successfully been appointed.”

Current projects and progress on digital at MWL

Moving on to discuss some of the recent and ongoing work on digital at MWL, Natalie offered us an insight into projects she had been involved in over the last few months: “We have a lot going on in the world of digital currently at MWL. As the trust has recently merged, a lot of my work is focusing on aligning our systems and ensuring colleagues across all hospital sites are using systems in the same way.”

Natalie also noted her work on the roll-out of the Narrative document management system across three of the trust’s five sites, which she says was a “huge go-live”, and her ongoing involvement in the procurement of a new EPR system, ensuring that nurses, who represent the biggest user group, are represented within the procurement process.

“One thing I’m most proud of from the work myself and my team have been doing, is our collaboration over the last 12 months with our education and training team. So now, when any new nurse, healthcare assistant or AHP join our trust, they receive clinically-led education around the use of digital systems. They’re not just being taught how to push a button and how to log in; we go through the clinical digital systems in the context of our patient journey, so we’ll speak to them about when we’re doing observations and inputting them onto the system; and about what that algorithm means for our patients and how to clinically understand that, not just the digital input.”

On the trust’s upcoming digital strategy, Natalie highlighted the focus on user-centred design, with stands at each of the sites being set up to facilitate engagement with colleagues, to see how they were using the systems, and to get “shop-floor feedback” around what would work to transform their day-to-day working lives.

“Gathering feedback from our colleagues was key, and in doing so, we were able to capture some common themes that we were then able to factor into our new strategy. Facilitating the engagement sessions meant we were able to incorporate the thoughts and ideas from colleagues across all areas including clinical, operational and admin – we also got some patient feedback too!”

Natalie also talked about the development of the trust’s patient portal, which she hopes will be live in the next few months.

Challenges and priorities for digital at MWL

We moved on to ask Natalie about any challenges she had experienced in her work on digital transformation to date, as well as about her priorities for the next twelve months.

“As we are a new organisation, one thing we are working on is ensuring we are digitally aligned across all hospital sites. Although we are using the same supplier, System C, we are currently at different levels of digital maturity across the trust, with systems being used in different ways. Operationally, this brings with it some challenges as we have staff moving around all five sites and although we need to align these sites, we have to do so in a way that is both clinically safe and patient-centred, meaning that sometimes we have to slow things down slightly.”

On priorities, Natalie highlighted the trust’s upcoming five-year digital strategy as a main area of focus, stating that although unable to share any specifics yet, a key focus will be levelling up digital maturity on an equal basis across all of the trust’s sites.

“It is imperative that a patient who attends one site, gets the exact same digital opportunities as a patient who presents at another. We need patient experience to be the same, and that’s no small feat. We also need to establish a safe clinical safety process – something that was in place at one of the legacy sites, but not the other. I have been lucky enough to set this up from scratch at one organisation and look forward to doing it again, making sure that clinical safety is all documented and that both the structure and governance is in place.”

Building a strong digital team

Next, we discussed with Natalie the importance of developing a strong digital team. She shared her insight from looking back at her early days as a CNIO, when it was a very new thing having digital clinical colleagues at the trust, and how although some fantastic things had been done before that, “having those digital clinical colleagues in place is absolutely key to having a successful roll-out” and ensuring that systems are embedded and optimised for users.

“I’m very lucky that I work in a multidisciplinary team, so within my team there are digital clinical colleagues, technical and project colleagues too, and we all work together. I think that’s the very best approach – I learn something new every single day from these colleagues, and I’m sure they learn things from us clinically, as well. I think the most important thing is to have that MDT approach and to absolutely have clinical people embedded in your digital teams.”

Advice on getting into a career in digital in the NHS

Finally, we asked Natalie what advice she would give to someone looking to get into a similar role in digital in the NHS.

She said: “To reach out to people like myself, digital clinical colleagues in-post at their trust already. Reach out to them, see if they can do some shadowing, see what a day in their life is like. I find Twitter/X a very good resource for finding other digital clinical colleagues, so a quick search on there to find people, and just start to reach out. We’re very friendly; there’s not many of us nationally, so we do tend to network very closely with one another, and doors are definitely open for people to come and spend time with us. There’s also lots of free resources for training through NHSE, so they can access that to learn things like clinical digital safety, and they get CPD points, if they’re a nurse, by doing that training.”

We’d like to thank Natalie for her time in sharing with us some of the insights from her role at MWL.

Also from recent interviews, we recently sat down for a chat with Ricardo Baptista Leite about the potential and considerations for artificial intelligence, key learnings from his career and his thoughts on the digital health landscape in Portugal.

We also spoke with Dr Osman Bhatti, GP and chief clinical information officer at North East London ICB, to catch up on programmes and priorities from the region. Osman kindly shared with us some of the progress updates and insights from NE London.