Monday, 30 June 2014

Informatics Revolution

Three weeks ago three interesting things happened to me over three days.

The first was that three civil servants from the newly established National Information Board visited York Street. Peter Hall, Jane Pawson and Tracey Dibdin came to visit the practice and see what we try to do to respond to the health and social needs of homeless people in Leeds. Over a cup of coffee we discussed the work we had accomplished with digital technology and inclusion. This work funded by the Tinder Foundation was to allow ourselves and five partner agencies (Genesis, Refugee Council / Health Befriending Network, Meeting Point, St Anne's Resource Centre, St George's Crypt) to host space where some of the most vulnerable people in Leeds could access appointments to York Street, book in advance and receive accurate information around health matters.

Dan Barnett, business manager for Specialist Services, led this work and it won the Excellence in Public Participation (Provider) Award at the NHS England Excellence in Participation awards. As I talked to these colleagues from Quarry House I began to see more and more how informatics (the use of the resources, technology and methods of modern technology to deliver and support best quality health and social care) potentially touched so much of what we did. For someone whose IT knowledge ends with YouTube and Amazon books this was a bit of revelation. I could see how informatics was a key to so much of the work we try to deliver and create. Informatics moved from a 'useful' category to a 'key' one in my work consciousness at that discussion. I'm grateful to these three good colleagues for this conversation and opening my mind up to these new roads to how we do health.

Following this meeting, Dan and myself presented at the launch of the National Information Board in London at St Thomas's Hospital. The NIB has the high level leadership role in setting the strategy and direction for the health and care system on technology and information. The event was attended by leading figures form the Health and Social Care world and was opened by the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt. Tim Kelsey, the first National Director for Patients and Information in the National Health Service, chaired the meeting. We presented about how Leeds has drawn a Health and Wellbeing Vision which challenges and calls the whole city to work for the most vulnerable. The great wording of the vision is about working for a healthy caring city and that 'people who are poorest will improve their health the fastest'( ).

We spoke about York Street and how we seek to make this vision a reality on the streets and in the lives of the homeless. We talked about the model we use at York Street - a model about how we should work as well as what we do. This inner model offers identity to the work and team. It is focused on three fundamental human developmental needs - positive space, supportive relationships and hope. Dan spoke powerfully about how the use of digital technology following on the social value work pioneered by the Centre for Innovation in Healthcare Management ( had benefited the poorest in our city. I felt proud that the CIHM, LCH and others in Leeds had worked together and from this these initiatives to use modern technology to support clients use IT to improve their health and the health of others had arisen. It showed what we can create when we work together and how we can support clients to access health more easily. The event was televised live over the internet and can be seen here -

The third thing was that returning to work the next day, walking down the Headrow in Leeds, I thought further how the vision we wish to create is linked integrally to digital possibilities. I could see how integration, inclusion and informatics had to go together. If we really want the best, most effective and quickest routes and delivery of care these three must coalesce. At York Street and in Leeds they had created real gains and improvements for homeless people, those involved in prostitution and the asylum system. What we have seen in microcosm at York Street could be developed in many other places and arenas.

These three experiences haven't worn off. Today I met with Victoria Betton to talk about how York Street could develop it's digital work. Victoria is the Mental Health Programme Director at Leeds & York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust & Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust. To talk to Victoria is to walk into a vivid world of IT possibilities and opportunities. Her knowledge and ideas seemed limitless ( ) We talked about and generated some fascinating ideas to test and look at. While I am still linked solidly to YouTube and Amazon something else has started to happen to me around the use of digital technology. I hope it happens to you too

John Walsh, York Street Practice

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