It was a complete accident that James Norman became involved in managing healthcare IT projects. He began working “many years ago” in finance and only started working in acute trusts when he was seconded to the George Elliott Hospital in Nuneaton.
The trust had been through a process to try and merge with another. When the negotiations fell through, a number of staff left - and a gap opened up in the information and performance team.
Norman became associate director of performance and information - as part of which he found himself with the responsibility for looking after information technology.
A new IT strategy for a new hospital
Norman moved on to join the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust as director of IM&T in February 2010.
When he was appointed, he made a point of holding one-on-one interviews with every single clinical director, in their offices, and of walking around their departments to fully understand the challenges they faced.
This helped Norman to construct a comprehensive IM&T strategy – a 111 page document published in September that is intended to guide the trust through to 2014. By that time, it should be two years away from moving into a new £451m hospital.
Although controversial because of its private finance initiative funding, the new Royal Liverpool University Hospital is designed to be a modern building that will be easier to navigate than the trust’s existing facilities.
All its patient accommodation will be in en-suite, single rooms to improve privacy and infection control, and it will be set in a huge new public park.
The IM&T strategy has been designed to make sure that the trust is running new IT systems smoothly a year before it moves into the new building, and that the new hospital itself has IT to match its other innovative features.
Focused on integration
The underpinning feature of the strategy is integration. The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen has been using a private cloud computing infrastructure, based on EMC technology, to integrate its existing systems.
It has also been working to give clinicians access to the data they contain via CSC’s clinical portal, which has been built in collaboration with Carefx using its Fusionfx interoperability platform.
The portal is now live within the trust. However, Norman points out that such big developments are only a small proportion of what he does.
“You don’t go out there saying ‘tomorrow the systems are going to be working faster and you’ll be receiving documents faster,’ it’s not what excites people,” he says.
“All that goes on behind the scenes, along with keeping the lights on. It’s only when new systems come out when staff actually notice that something has happened - and that’s only a small percentage of my job.”
The number of votes cast for Norman in the Healthcare IT Champion of the Year competition suggests that staff at the trust have recognised his work, though, and he says he finds this humbling.
“You never think that what you have done yourself is actually something that is worth celebrating – to me it is business as usual,” he says.
“What I’m doing is I’m developing systems that improve the way that we provide services to the patient and the consultant. That is what I’m employed to do and I don’t expect people to pat me on the back and say well done – it is very nice though.
“It’s great that [staff] are really recognising this, because these systems are only just starting to come out and really we are trying to get the message out there and let them know that these things are going to happen.”
Looking beyond the trust
Norman’s votes also came from people working in the wider Merseyside area. When he was developing the IM&T strategy, he also sought out the views of people outside the trust, such as researchers at local universities, and GPs who will be sending patients into the new hospital.
“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t putting together a strategy simply for the trust, but that I was doing something that would take the trust outside of its normal secondary care shackles and break down the barriers into primary care,” he says.
Norman’s cites that sort of collaboration as “key” to bringing the trust into world class standings. “We can’t continue to work in isolation,” he says.
Indeed, Norman’s interest in collaboration also goes beyond healthcare – he has been responsible for setting up and running an informatics forum across Merseyside and Cheshire.
“It is something I run quarterly, literally just to bring people together from different areas to share what we have been doing so that it is not confined within the trust, but gives an opportunity to establish those networks.”
A great outcome to a rough ride
Norman says that it has sometimes been a “rough ride” since he accidentally became an IT manager, but he wouldn’t turn back now.
“It has almost been like an untapped world for me, getting involved in the IT rather than just leaving it for someone else to sort out. It closes that loop...you are not just putting in the hardware for something - you’re overseeing the whole process.”
The National Programme for IT in the NHS hasn’t made Norman’s working life any easier – he is now responsible for leading the trust through the remnants of the programme.
In the North Midlands and East of England, all eyes have been on the outcome of CSC’s negotiations with the Department of Health, which have been going on since Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust dropped out of becoming the fourth early adopter for iSoft’s Lorenzo software in May.
“We don’t know what is going to happen, we are waiting, as with everybody else to hear how the contract might be changed and how that will affect trusts,” he says.
“That means we don’t know whether it will put trusts in a difficult situation, or whether it will be quite a tempting offer that is put on the plate.”
The key for Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen is to make sure that it has an IT plan for the foreseeable future, and with the CSC clinical portal going live it would seem that it has achieved that.
As for who is responsible for putting Norman’s name in the hat for the Healthcare IT Champion of the Year award – it was a colleague working alongside him on the CSC portal project. “I have emailed her to thank her; but also to let her know she is to blame,” he says.