Empowering the primary care workforce to make a positive impact on their working day and improving patient experience

30th August 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital technology in healthcare, and patients and healthcare professionals needed to quickly adapt to a more digital NHS.

We’ve seen huge benefits to services as a result, but it’s well recognised that support is needed for staff and patients to further adopt and deploy digital technology. That’s why earlier this year, NHS England’s Digital First Primary Care Team commissioned the Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC) to deliver a Digital Pioneers programme for the primary care workforce. The programme aims drive the development of digital, to provide better access to services and improve healthcare for patients.

In this blog, Vic Grainger, Senior Digital Primary Care Manager at NHS England’s North East and Yorkshire Digital Primary Care Team, explains how innovation is transforming NHS services and the importance of programmes such as Digital Pioneers.

People often ask me what I have done with my career to date and I often liken it to speed dating with the NHS. I’ve primarily worked at a system level in roles working with secondary care, clinical networks and more recently (since 2018) primary care with a specific focus on General Practice transformation. I have a passion for people, building networks and making a difference.

Digital transformation can bring great benefits to patients, services, and staff if we use it to make a real problem better and continue to recognise that its one method of accessing services for patients, but it doesn’t suit everyone. I’ll use my mum as a positive example of how technology can help. She was very ill with COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. She hates technology and wouldn’t opt to use it as a first choice. However, while she was in  Intensive Care and  in recovery we could FaceTime her using an iPad supplied to the hospital, which gave us all some support and comfort during what was an incredibly difficult time. She is doing really well, still has long COVID, but now uses the NHS App, which allows her to have video calls with clinicians involved in helping to manage her condition. She can also access advice and guidance and can manage her prescriptions online. It took time to increase her confidence and improve her digital skills but now she often remarks that it saves her time, she doesn’t need to drive which saves her money, and that she has confidence in the care she receives. A big shift when we couldn’t even get her to do mobile banking!

We saw a huge amount of technology deployed during the peak of COVID-19 to support the response to the pandemic. At the time it was deployed at speed because it was required to keep unnecessary footfall out of services and to reduce the spread of infection. We are now recovering and need to help services and patients to understand technology to feel confident to get the most out of it.

I manage a transformation budget for the North East and North Cumbria called Digital First Primary Care, which is aimed at improving primary care and transforming things for the better. When we set out on our planning journey, we knew we needed to do more to support patients and staff. We thought about the pressures in general practice, and the need to support people to become more confident in the use of digital tools and increase digital literacy. In another recent blog for the AHSN NENC, Paul Gibson, Head of Digital Development at North East & North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, working in Sunderland, talked about ‘enabling patients to use their practice websites, health and wellness hubs, and the NHS App. We knew we needed to give staff the skills which would ultimately aim to improve patient experience.  We approached the AHSN NENC with our ideas and after many weeks of co-production the Digital Pioneers Programme was born. Those who are part of the Digital Champions programme are being given lifelong skills, and the increased level of confidence and competence they need to support patients and staff to embrace digital. We have effectively created a safe space to learn, where you can ask the silly questions and be supported. I am planning to be part of a session soon and can’t wait to learn something new!

So, how can the workforce get involved? I’d encourage anyone working in primary care with an enthusiasm to improve digital care and services to get in touch with the team at the AHSN NENC. Whether you have an idea for a digital innovation and would like support, or you’d like to develop your own digital skills, the team have the expertise and connections to help you to embed digital in to your organisation.

Sign up for our Digital Innovation in Primary Care Showcase online event

Join primary care colleagues from across the region on Wednesday 7th September to discuss how we can develop and deploy digital innovation in primary care and how this can benefit patients and staff in the North East and North Cumbria.

As part of a series, this webinar will help to develop a broader understanding of the needs and challenges in primary care and identify areas where innovation could save money, relieve clinical pressures, and improve patient care.

Register your place here.

For more information visit our Digital Pioneers webpages or contact Rachael Forbister, Digital Transformation Programme Manager.