What a new era of digital leadership could mean for the provider sector

Navina Evans profile picture

05 October 2020

Navina Evans
Chief executive
Health Education England


What does the future hold for health and care services? If I were to give advice to my colleagues and friends now - those who hold the power to make changes to maximise the positive impact on patients in the future - what advice would I give?

My new office as chief executive of Health Education England (HEE) doesn’t come replete with a view of the future (nor does it come with a view from the office, due to COVID-19) but it does include 3,500 people eager to help describe and harness every possible opportunity open to us. This opportunity is for the net gain of the patients and service users we care for, and for the staff that it is our duty to support, educate and value. Those teams provide for me the raw materials of scientific-era prediction – strategy, scenario-based modelling, evidence synthesis and gathering and programme delivery.

So, what does the future hold?

I am extremely heartened to say that the policy view on this is consistent. Whether we look at policy in the NHS people plan or the longer-term future as described by the Topol Review and HEE’s own Framework 15, I see a health and care system that does three things:

  • It values and empowers its workforce to solve problems and innovate
  • it recognises and supports patients, service users, carers and the public to play their part in disease management, care and public health
  • it takes advantage of the opportunities data and technology offer.


These three things sound separate. They are not. These three themes are as interwoven as it is possible to be and the word we use to describe them is digital. Essentially, there is no point doing service transformation without digital transformation as they are so interlinked, and both are required first before you then map on the workforce transformation that goes with it. It’s  a trio of aligned activities.

To quote Tom Loosemore, formerly of the Government Digital Service, digital is the application of the culture, processes, business models and technologies of the digital age to respond to people's raised expectations. Digital is more about people than computers. It means better, quicker, more agile ways of working, with an adaptable workforce who are more confident and better equipped to do their job and to lead change in the system. This leads to improved service for the patient and better decisions around care, based upon effective use of information.

HEE is taking a lead on the role that digital technology plays in the delivery of health and care in the future and the knowledge and skills needed to work differently in the 21st century. Following the findings and recommendations of the Topol Review, HEE’s role has taken a new focus on digital learning and development as well as awareness and readiness for the workforce and its leaders. These are key alongside all the traditional learning and development that HEE oversees already. Including this in current curricula becomes very important andnd HEE’s role in bringing in the future digital workforce is vital too.

So, what does that mean for the workforce? Digital skillsets and knowledge and opportunities will improve. The establishment of the NHS Digital Academy – part of the Digital Readiness programme – will mean that there is a contextualised home for all our digital learning and learning programmes providing the right learning at the right time for our people. The Yale leadership programme and Topol Fellowship programme are all about building capacity for people to lead the digital agenda and make a difference for patients. This is the reason I am thrilled that HEE are also working with NHS Providers to deliver a development programme aimed at NHS boards. The NHS Providers digital board offer helps organisations wrestle with this to find the sweet spot – empowering staff and service users to speed up innovation and change safely, to delegate decision-making and simultaneously help to make the NHS the best place to work.

So, how does this play out for the future of the provider sector? Be prepared for a very fast ride. The opportunities from digital are doubling every two years. Luckily, the secret to getting the most out of the digital opportunities, to creating organisations serving a population, that are flexible enough to not only survive but thrive, is the same it always has been.

Stay curious, stay humble and always keep your service user, and ultimately the patient, at the heart of the decisions you take. If provider organisations can reflect and support these values and aims, and the principles of the people plan, their services will always be needed by the NHS.

Dr Navina will be speaking at our annual conference and exhibition this year, taking place 6, 7 and 8 October.

About the author

Navina Evans profile picture

Navina Evans
Chief executive

Dr Navina Evans CBE has over twenty years’ clinical experience in psychiatry, medicine and paediatrics, and came to East London in 1997 as a consultant psychiatrist. In 2011 Navina took on the role of deputy chief executive and director of operations at the East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT), and was appointed as chief executive in August 2016.

Prior to 2011, Navina worked as the clinical director for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) at ELFT, where she led on ensuring effective delivery in terms of quality, performance and effectiveness and had lead responsibility for partnerships and integrated care.

Follow Navina on Twitter @NavinaEvans

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