Communications at the NHS' digital gunfight

Last year, I had two main jobs. About half my time I worked in an NHS organisation - improving elderly care in Cambridgeshire; and the other half in a digital software start up - TextThing.

Unsurprisingly, just about everything about the two organisations was different - size, culture, behaviours - but most stark were the differences in communication tools/practices. In the NHS: Outlook, Word and frequent, regular meetings. In TextThing - Slack, Asana and infrequent, sporadic meetings. In the NHS, communication felt slow and intense: in TextThing, frenetic and exciting.

In TextThing, if we'd been forced to use the comms tools the NHS uses - we'd have long since packed up. It would've been just too hard.

And, if it isn't already, the NHS will soon be finding the same. Last Friday it published - Making IT Work - a report about digitising itself. The report concludes...

The one thing that NHS cannot afford to do is to remain a largely non-digital system. It is time to get on with IT.

It's a sensible document, whose main thrust is about installing clinical management systems in all 154 NHS trusts: doing what NPfIT didn't do in the noughties. Big change.

This week, in a post on FabNHSStuff, an NHS programme director wrote...

The tools I have routinely and unquestioningly used for years (email and documents) are hopelessly ineffective for the work that I do.


Tools like Slack and wikis made a big difference to how effective we are at managing change.

These tools are available now and have been shown to work in the NHS; but there is little experience with them. In particular, senior people - who could provide the impetus to start using them - are mostly not aware of their potential benefits. There is time to get on with this, but not much.

Becoming digital is a gunfight; turning up with a plastic spoon, no matter how pluckily, will not go well.