UCLH CIO James Thomas on negotiating regulatory scrutiny

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UCLH CIO James Thomas on unified communications
UCLH CIO James Thomas on supplier management

The University College London Hospital (UCLH) is one of the most complex healthcare organisations in the city and is continuously called upon to bear the brunt of emergencies.

It's CIO James Thomas's job to ensure the systems that support the hospital are up to the job. Like the rest of the NHS, the hospital is highly regulated and scrutinised in terms of quality of care and expenditure.

One part of Thomas's initiatives to fulfill those requirements has been to develop a ground-breaking unified communications network that links the hospitals many buildings.

With seven separate sites including the historic Georgian buildings facing the trust’s busy Maple House office, providing a seamless technology experience is a challenge for Thomas, his team and suppliers.

“Some buildings are less than four years old, others are over 120 years old, but the standard of care has to be the same. The challenge for me is to put the infrastructure in and deliver it to the same standard. For example surgeons are using our networks to provide them with X-rays, CT and MRI scans. A&E has 100,000 people go through its doors every year and it has to achieve the government target of a maximum wait of four hours.”

All this places great pressure on Thomas­ to ensure resources are injected into the right areas of the IT operations.

Two years ago he moved the UCLH datacentre out of a 120-year-old building, but before securing the capital, he had to carry out an analy­sis to prove the investment was necessary.

“We calculated that a seven-day datacentre failure would cost around £12m. Some of the equipment in the old data­centre was so old too.”

He now uses a ­datacentre in Docklands. “You really have to balance up the case of damaging ­patient care compared to damage from not doing enough. And we [the NHS] live in a world of a lot of people making sure we are compliant and on target.”

This has made Thomas reflect on his IT leadership experience and he sees the role of the CIO in a different light. “CIOs are not necessarily aware of the pain it causes the organisation. Clinical risk is something really powerful to consider,” he says.

“My role is trust-wide, the scope of it is all IT services; clinical and non-clinical; also telecommunications and patient entertainment. I am also responsible for all the paper medical records. I picked up the pain of the paper world as it will promote me to move it to electronic,” Thomas says of his role.

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