Nurses and digital staff are the winners, NOT just the digital team

DL100 - Photo: Josh Caius

Written by Martyn Perry, Associate Director of IM&T Transformation, MPFT

In June 2022 the nurses and digital staff across Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT) were delighted to win both the Digital Leaders100 digital skills/talent initiative of the year award and the overall Digital Leaders 100 award. 

In the first eight words of that first sentence is the clue to why we might have been winners.


Who does the work? 

Yes, the digital teams had to do the digitisation. The digital teams had to build the forms that used to be dog-eared paper. The digital teams had to configure and allocate the tablet devices that used to be yellow folders. The digital teams had to train staff where previously all of our nurses knew how to fill out the paperwork. The digital team had to find the budget for the transformation. 

But nothing would have happened if it wasn’t for our nurses and the way we worked as a team. 

Nurses and digital staff are the winners, NOT just the digital team.

Co-design and collaboration

We digitised 700 nurses in a little over 12-months of concerted effort with a limited team already fatigued by our response to COVID. But imagine how long it would have taken for all of the work we did without the fundamental co-design and collaboration with our nursing teams and service managers. We’d be nowhere near the levels of adoption of where we are today.

At every step of the journey we weren’t a separate digital team and a nursing team. We were a single transformation team. 

    • Forms were co-designed and tested seamlessly between digital staff and nurses
    • Tablet devices were sourced and tested, and new devices procured based on nursing feedback e.g., we procured cases and keyboards to meet operational needs
  • Training wasn’t done remotely via Standard Operating Procedure documents and videos (although these exist), it was done face to face, on site in the care environment to really help each individual feel comfortable with the new approach and confident in the use of the digital solutions offered

Old school

I imagine that lots of you that are taking the time to read this blog are already digital leaders and interested in the same areas of digital transformation. You read co-design and probably think I’m stating the obvious. But you’d be surprised how often we tend to fall into the trap of being sent a request then “going away and doing something”. When we do, it takes time, and inevitably when we think we’re ready with what we’ve built, we nearly always don’t get it quite right first time. This leads to delays, or worse, wobbly go-lives with dissatisfied and disengaged staff.

There’s a few reasons why this lack of co-design and collaborative development continues to happen, and it takes a real concerted effort to avoid. 

Across any sector, there’s been a well embedded way of doing things. If it’s IT, get the IT team to fix it, sort it, do it. If the IT problem is still present after this, it’s the IT team’s fault.

This approach is often reinforced by staff and managers of all levels across any organisation, and it’s completely the wrong thing to do. Staff shouldn’t throw the whole problem to the digital team to be resolved in isolation, and digital leaders and teams shouldn’t take on 100% of the burden.

Just this week I was personally asked to sort a faulty monitor in an unrelated exec office moments before presenting the digital strategy at regional board level. It’s like asking the director of estates to fix the leaky tap before the board meeting! This perception of IT being solely IT’s business has to change, and that’s what we’re doing across MPFT.


Digital Transformation is the responsibility of everybody

The onus isn’t just on digital leaders to ensure co-design, it’s on ALL leaders. I firmly believe that in the next 10 years we shouldn’t be talking about DIGITAL transformation, it’s just transformation. In a decade’s time you won’t be able to transform anything without digital and – to be frank – you can’t transform much without some form of digital right now. As such, everybody that can, should be making a concerted effort to be more aware and more capable of digital. It’s a fundamental tool of most jobs.

So, when it comes to ensuring that transformation is successful, we need digital leaders to ensure engagement, understanding and shared priorities are in place. It’s obvious. Of course we do! Digital leadership 101. But we also require all service leaders and staff of all disciplines and seniority levels to have as equal responsibility for engagement, understanding and shared prioritisation. From strategic to operational level.  

To drive a car, you don’t need to know how to fix it, but you do need to be supported and trained – sometimes for years – before you can drive it confidently and on your own. The same is true for digital. When we’re co-designing, we’re not expecting staff and managers to come up with robust coding solutions or recommendations on the appropriate integration standards of our systems (to fix the car), but it is essential that they train and use the digital solutions and give feedback; sharing the responsibility of making improvements (to drive the car). 

Furthermore, business requirements need to be jointly understood and clearly articulated, and ambitions and priorities jointly agreed. I’ve ensured that when there’s a capacity problem within IT, it’s not just that “the digital team that haven’t responded”. We share the issue, address the finite resource we have to transform collectively and make shared decisions on what elements of the digital transformation journey need to be done before others.


Transformation success

For our nursing digitisation, we collectively felt the pain and the pressure of the lows, and we’ve collectively shared and celebrated the highs. 

It’s taken a lot of hard work, and the journey is still ongoing, but I’m beginning to see a change in the culture of everyone involved with our digital strategy and digital transformation journey. The more we work on this collectively, the more we co-design, collaborate and share our digital transformation as a collective multi-disciplinary team, the more successful we will be at realising the benefits of transformational change at pace.

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