Interview, News

Interview: “The key with any innovation is being open to allowing creativity” Kate Warriner, Alder Hey and Liverpool Heart and Chest

For our latest interview we caught up with Kate Warriner, chief digital and transformation officer at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Trust and chief digital and information officer at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital. Kate shared insights on current projects and digital priorities across both organisations, around the digital, data and technology workforce, patient engagement, data use, and more.

Introducing herself, Kate shared that she has been at Alder Hey for five years now, and at Liverpool Heart and Chest for four years. She got into the world of digital “purely by accident”, after getting a job as a ward clerk during her time at university studying music.

“In the second year of my degree I got a job in NHS primary care, going around GP practices and doing note summarising. When I graduated, I got a job as a trainer on digital systems, and then I got a great opportunity to do a masters degree; a that’s what started my career in digital. It was never part of any grand plan, but I really enjoyed working with people and seeing how technology could make a real difference for patient care.”

In the last 12 months at Alder Hey Kate has had “a bit of a changing role,” she said, as a result of the overall transformation agenda across the organisation. “It means my role has expanded somewhat, which is really great in terms of thinking about how digital can play such an important role in some of the services that we are developing.”

In fact, Kate shares that she will soon be joining Alder Hey on a full time basis, focusing on digital transformation and developing new models of care, with her new transformation role set to commence in July 2024.

Ongoing digital projects

Moving on to share insights into some of the recent digital projects across both her organisations, Kate highlighted how Liverpool Heart and Chest has recently achieved HIMMS Level 7, following the same achievement at Alder Hey three years ago.

“HIMMS updated their criteria following the pandemic, making it a lot tougher, and we were delighted to be the first hospital in Europe to get accredited just a few weeks ago. There were some fantastic things that came out of that with some of the technologies that we put in place, particularly from a safety point of view; and also on how we use our data in terms of looking at our services and looking at how we can improve.”

Kate also told us about how the HIMMS presentations helped to showcase some of the work going on at Liverpool Heart and Chest, including in closed loop medicines, which “saw some great reductions in medicines administration errors”, and in patient engagement tools.

“We saw some great examples of our healthy lung project around the early detection of lung cancer – we’ve detected about 400 lung cancers early that have been treatable in Cheshire and Merseyside, and technology has played a real part in that.”

At Alder Hey, Kate said that they “had a big year last year, in that we had a major overhaul of our electronic patient records, and we’ve been doing a lot of work in terms of optimisation. We’ve just done a refresh of the whole strategy for the organisation, so we’ve now got our roadmap to 2030, and digital and technology cuts through all of that like a stick of rock.”

This roadmap is “building on quite a lot of the brilliant work that we’ve done so far,” Kate said, “but we are also looking forward to harnessing new technologies. We’re working with children and young people, many of whom can use an iPhone before they can read now; so the generation that we are caring for have got different expectations of us in digital and technology. We’ve got some really exciting developments in the works.”

Digital priorities

On priorities around digital for the next 12 months, Kate highlighted the importance of ensuring that the basics remain in place whilst also pushing forward with the technology agenda, in terms of new developments such as generative AI.

“We’re excited about some of the possibilities that can help with transforming some of the services that we are delivering in both organisations,” she acknowledged. “We’re starting to explore the art of the possible with some of our clinicians and patients. The NHS is free enough in our thinking and in our strategy to have the courage to take the plunge with some of these things, and I’m excited to see where that goes.”

Kate highlighted that the data agenda is particularly exciting over the next 12 months. At present, both organisations are using data and data analytics for decision-making, with examples including the use of Power BI and utilisation of real-time dashboards to enable staff to see key performance metrics such as the number of patients waiting. “We want to see how we can make the most of our data, because we’re very data rich,” she said. “We’re looking at how we can use our data even more than we already do, not only to give us insights into operational service delivery, but also to take our services into the future.”

In terms of appetite for new technologies, Kate told us that clinicians and “really fantastic” digital teams from both organisations often play a role in driving change and bringing new possibilities to light.

“It might be something that I’ve seen, or another clinician has spotted, or it might be a number of us. Then we tend to get our heads together and start a bit of an MDT conversation around it, followed by an assessment of whether or not we should give it a try. An example of that is generative AI – we’ve got a few clinicians that have been trying it out in their personal lives. Through the ICB we’ve had some workshops facilitated with experts in the field, bringing together different ideas, which now is starting to craft into thinking about early priorities and a programme of work around it. I think the key with any innovation is being open to allowing that creativity, whereby anyone can bring ideas to the table that will be listened to.”

With regards to patient engagement, Kate noted that tools such as patient portals and mobile apps play a sizeable role in her organisations’ efforts to engage patients. She also commented on the role of COVID in enabling the roll-out and development of digital opportunities for patients at-scale.

“Prior to that, I can remember sitting in a room discussing online consultations, and we were looking at one or two small service areas. Then suddenly we were talking about every service area and offering it out for everybody. The NHS has continued to build on that momentum, and I think it potentially taught us a lesson around not being afraid of not knowing exactly what is going to be there. We can be OK with the ambiguity of that and just get on with the rollercoaster. Our children and patients expect that we are doing this, so we need to be led by that.”

Overcoming challenges around digital 

We asked Kate what challenges there were around digital, and what plans there were for her organisations in overcoming those to guarantee space for digital transformation over the next five to ten years.

“I think a lot of it is about staying ahead of the game in terms of the pace of change,” she considered. “We work in a fast-paced environment; I think certainly in acute care, the pace of working means you’ve got to be able to be agile.

“Also from a digital point of view, I think there are some workforce challenges, and that’s hugely important to bear in mind. There are a lot more people with natural digital skills compared to ten years ago, because of how people use technology in their day-to-day lives, so in many ways there has been some ‘mainstreaming’ of digital skills. But harnessing some of those real expert and professional digital roles is a key challenge that we need to get ahead of over the next few years.”

Kate shared that there is an integrated service supporting both of her organisations called Integrated Digital, with a number of  shared roles and shared teams. “We host graduate schemes and apprentice roles as well, and through our learning and development teams at both organisations, we’re keen to be working with schools and other educational institutions to try and attract people into these roles. We’re also part of the North West Skills Development Network; we really encourage our digital colleagues to have mentors and access to coaching in order to harness talent and expertise.”

When it comes to opportunities for staff members to get into digital, Kate commented that hers is “quite an open team”, always looking for people to work with, even if it is not necessarily in a formalised role.

“If there’s someone who comes forward and wants to get involved in a project or piece of work, there are constraints around whether you’ve got vacancies or not, but there’s often creative ways that you can get people involved,” she said.

In terms of staff engagement, Kate said that she feels “lucky” with the clinical leadership teams at both organisations, as they play an important role in supporting engagement with colleagues, listening to challenges and working through concerns.

“We’ve also got some fabulous digital colleagues who are well known and well-embedded throughout both organisations, so they’re good points of contact for staff. We have good governance and a digital forum where we do project spotlights – for example, we might bring in a speaker to talk about something that has gone live or an initiative that we’re working on.”

To conclude the interview, Kate shared a few parting comments on her hopes for digital in the future. “I think it’s a really exciting time for digital health and the transformation opportunities that digital can help to enable. There’s a lot to watch with the new and emerging technologies that are coming out, and a lot to be optimistic about. The NHS has been on quite a journey over the last few years, but I think that there is a lot to be hopeful for. For us, working with children and young people is key – they keep us motivated and energised, and that’s why we’re here: to make a difference for our patients.”

We’d like to thank Kate for her time in sharing her insights from Alder Hey and Liverpool Heart and Chest with us, and wish her the best in her new role!