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Hancock pledges to 'look into' nurse leadership gap at new digital agency for NHS

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The health secretary has vowed to “look at” adding a chief nursing officer role to the structure of his new technology agency, known as NHSX, after the absence of one was flagged by a nurse.

At a conference today, Matt Hancock was asked about his “commitment to nursing leadership within the new NHSX” by Jenny Smith, from NHS England’s primary care digital transformation team.

“If we don’t yet have that already in the structure, then that’s something we need to look at”

Matt Hancock

Mr Hancock faced the enquiry during a question and answer session following his keynote speech at the chief nursing officer’s summit in Birmingham.

Ms Smith highlighted the lack of nurse representation in the current structure of the new agency, charged with promoting better use of digital technology across the health service in England.

“You can see the CCIO [chief clinical information officer] and you can see the portfolio team is in there but there is no CNO that I can see,” she said.

Responding, Mr Hancock said: “If we don’t yet have that already in the structure, then that’s something we need to look at… we’ll take that away as homework.”

Chief nursing office for England Dr Ruth May added: “We definitely do.”

The creation of the new joint unit, NHSX, was announced in February this year by the government. Its brief is to “bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician. It will combine the best talent from government, the NHS and industry”.

Ms Jones also quizzed the health and social care secretary on the need for action to improve “IT infrastructure at the most basic level” in the NHS.

She noted that in his speech he had mentioned the potential of complex technological advances such as artificial intelligence and genomics.

But she told him that “a lot of the problems are around fax machines and training on the different clinical systems”.

Mr Hancock responded by saying he “totally” agree with Ms Jones, who is part of a group that has just set up a network for “digital nurses”.

“Of course, we’ve got to keep our eye on the bright and very exciting medium- and long-term future. Well I say medium- and long-term future, it’s happening now in lots of places,” he said.

“But we’ve absolutely got to fix the day to day as well. I totally get that. It’s unbelievably frustrating in many places,” he told delegates.

“It’s not just the fax machines which are terrible for privacy and incredibly time consuming, it’s the log-ons that take forever, it’s the fact that the systems won’t talk to one another,” he said.

Mr Hancock has previously instructed the health service to phase out pagers, fax machines and to replace paper letters with email.

“Sorting out the basic tech, of course, is mission critical and here nurses have got a really important role to play,” he said during his speech today.

“So much of the technology that needs to improve in the NHS is essentially logistical – knowing where the patients are, knowing where the staff are, knowing where all the kit is, being able to schedule things properly, having systems that talk to each other,” he said.

“All of that needs fixing and NHSX is going to be a really exciting opportunity to have a single point of tech leadership in the NHS, which we haven’t had for years and years and years that can really drive this agenda. And we’re going to need nurses at the heart of it,” he added.

Department of Health and Social Care

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock speaking at the 2019 CNO Summit

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