Transforming the NHS - Leaving UCLH in better health

James Thomas has stepped down as CIO of University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and arguably as the most influential CIO in the NHS. But he is at pains to stress that he's staying with healthcare and his latest move is because healthcare matters so much to him.

I met up with Thomas in his last week at UCLH. The classic Mini pictures were still on the wall of his Warren Street, London office, and we looked back on his eight-year career in healthcare and the transformation opportunities available to NHS CIOs.

"Waiting targets are rising all over the place and three quarters of acute hospitals are in financial stress," he says of the deep pain the NHS is suffering. But Thomas and UCLH have demonstrated that despite bungling health policy from both major political parties over the past decade, strong leadership and innovative management can lead to improved health care.

"I can't believe it's been eight years. It has been a phenomenal journey. We have built two hospitals and a virtual training facility in that period," Thomas says of his three proudest achievements at UCLH. "It is an institute like this that gives you opportunities to stretch. Every year I have been here, we have grown by 10% as an organisation."

In the judging of the 2013 CIO 100, Richard Sykes, a former CIO, led a chorus of support from the panel. It applauded Thomas' attitude and influence on the vendor community and readiness to challenge, discuss and innovate with its suppliers.

An outsourcing strategy means that Thomas' IT staff consists of just 20, while 100 outsourced heads fill the Warren Street office and manage the technology essential to one of London's most important first responder hospitals.

Thomas delivered greater organisational flexibility, which allowed UCLH to move forwards and focus on innovations such as the Macmillan Cancer Centre. Opened in April 2012, the centre was a £100 million development between both the UCLH and, as the name suggests, the Macmillan cancer care charity. The building includes a hotel for patients and their partners, and a third floor ward devoted to teenagers, which has social areas, pool tables and computer games booths.

All of this has been made possible because of the collaborative nature of UCLH. Macmillan is not the only charity to commit to the centre; CLIC Sargent and the Teenage Cancer Trust also invested in the partnership.

UCLH and Thomas have a management ethos that is bold and prepared to embrace technology to improve the lives and processes of all involved, whether patient or carer.

"Patients receive a barcoded letter for their appointments," Thomas told CIO UK during a tour of the hospital.

"They present the barcode to the plinth computers on entering the centre. This is connected directly to the hospital administration system and the scheduling software is connected to the core patient records. When a doctor requests a patient's record this triggers the information screens in the building, which alert patients that their appointment is due and where." The system also reveals how to get to the room of your appointment. This is recognition of technology having a role in helping patients during a very stressful period of their lives.

UCLH collects information throughout this processes, too, so time stamps allow the analysis of how long doctors and patients need together, which will improve the scheduling and management of the centre.

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