Through our board sessions, interview and events, we have heard a number of common reflections from trust leaders on the changes COVID-19 has brought about, and the implications for the future digital leadership role of their board.

  • Digital is more than just the technology | The pandemic caused profound cultural changes within the NHS enabling many boards to adopt a new digital mindset. One chief executive defined this as giving teams "greater clarity of purpose, freedom to act and permission to focus on delivering minimum viable services in weeks not months".

  • Boards are building confidence in their assurance role | Leaders no longer have to fear big IT projects as career limiting. They are getting to grips with the right questions to ask. For some this has involved rethinking traditional models of governance. One non-executive director described this as having a firm understanding of digital in order to have an appropriate "light hand on the tiller".

  • Digital is no longer the preserve of the IT department | Boards increasingly recognise that digital can't be delegated to the CIO: it needs to be collectively owned by the board, much like the quality and finance agendas. As an enabler of transformation, safety, productivity and much more, digital should be mainstreamed across all portfolios. As one trust leader reflected, the whole board needs to focus on how digital can make things "faster, safer, simpler and cheaper".

  • Boards are getting closer to the digital user experience | By incorporating digital into existing feedback mechanisms and exploring new ones, boards are recognising they need to be genuinely user-centred to unlock the potential digital brings to transform the patient and staff experience. There is a growing focus on the importance of involving patients, service-users and staff in the co-design of services from the outset to address the risks of digital exclusion.

  • Digital should be a more integrated part of the trust's corporate strategy | In the past, many boards have only discussed digital when approving business cases. But trust leaders acknowledge the need to set a clear vision for how digital can enable the trust’s wider goals as the bedrock of a successful digital strategy.

  • Boards are recognising the importance of joining up their ambitions across the system | This involves grappling with difficult challenges around interoperability, supporting system partners with divergent starting points and building transformation capability across the patch.

  • Prioritisation is key | Boards are increasingly recognising that the strategic vision should translate into more specific and realistic priorities that can be communicated to the rest of the organisation, rather than a wish list of initiatives. As one board leader put it: "digital is about how we think about what we do rather than a series of IT deliverables".

  • Investing in your digital teams is fundamental, regardless of whether you are buying in large technology or building from scratch | This requires breaking down silos between IT, clinical and operations staff. As one trust leader said, "we no longer build for clinical and operational teams, we build with them". Some trusts are revisiting their operating models to join up their digital, quality improvement and transformation capability and embed this within frontline delivery.