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The EPR debate

Digitising hospitals was the focus of NHS IT policy for twenty years. The job is still unfinished: so what are the options for trusts – and the integrated care systems that are planned to take over health tech strategy and funding next April? The Highland Marketing advisory board asked three leading chief information officers for their views.

 Covid-19 and the latest reforms of the NHS have focused attention on health tech to an unusual degree. The first few months of the pandemic saw a rapid roll-out of remote working, virtual clinics and digital-first primary care and triggered a lively political and media debate about their future role in healthcare.

Meanwhile, the health tech market has been focused on integrated care systems and the shared care records, data platforms, and apps they will need to join-up services, introduce population health management, and create a new ‘offer’ for places and citizens.

In the middle of all this, the digitisation of hospitals seems to be in danger of being overlooked. Which is odd, because for 20-years it was the focus of NHS IT policy, and it is still far from complete.

In comments to the HETT show at Olympia, reported by the Health Service Journal, NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould around 10% of trusts remain “largely paper-based” while there are “a whole lot more that are only semi-digitised.”

With the global digital exemplar programme wound down, the Unified Tech Fund planning to allocate the last of Jeremy Hunt’s tech money by March, and ICSs due to take over IT strategy and funding in April, it doesn’t look like there’s a central strategy to improve things.

Yet, as the ‘What Good Looks Like’ document for ICSs acknowledges, there is a need to ‘level up’ trust electronic patient record provision, if hospitals are to work efficiently, support their staff, and feed into those shared care record and data platforms.

So, the Highland Marketing advisory board asked three leading chief information officers what their trusts are doing, to inform a debate about the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Big box? Best of breed? Ecosystem? Or new thinking?

Adrian Byrne, the chief information officer of University Hospitals of Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, started by challenging some of the terminology that is used around hospital systems.

Traditionally, he noted, people have contrasted ‘big box’ or single supplier with ‘best of breed’ models for rolling out EPR functionality, such as patient administration, order comms, e-prescribing and, more recently, e-noting and e-observations. But this may be unhelpful and outdated.

Unhelpful, because even the biggest of ‘big box’ EPRs don’t do everything, so trusts are going to have to integrate them with other systems at some point; and the real question may be how much integration they want to handle.

“There seems to be an idea that it’s ‘go with one of the big boys’ or ‘let chaos reign’, but I don’t subscribe to that,” Byrne said. “We are said to have a best of breed approach, but we want to integrate where we can and get down to as few systems as possible.”

Outdated, because most of the current discussion about EPRs is focused on how they are evolving into platforms that can collect and then flow data into different systems, including patient-facing apps.

“I spoke to Will Smart [the former CIO of NHS England, who now works for Dedalus] a couple of weeks ago,” Byrne said, “and he didn’t want to talk about EPRs anymore. He wanted to talk about platform, flowing data, and patients: and I think that’s right.”  (Highland Marketing also spoke to Will recently, and there’s more on his views here).

Hospital IT is like an onion…  

In practice, the basic distinction is well understood. Martin Sadler, the chief information officer at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, said his organisation “put in an EPR 18-months ago” and “it has given us a platform to say: ‘this is what we have done to the patient’ and ‘this is where they are in our system’.”

Whereas Neil Perry, director of digital transformation at Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, said that in 2017, when his organisation refreshed its IT strategy, it first “decided what it wanted to do” and then decided that “best of breed was the way to get there, fastest.”

But there was agreement between presenters and advisory board members that it is not enough.

Since then, his trust has adopted a modern approach to integrating data from its different systems and re-exporting it to apps that ‘fill gaps’ in its EPR functionality, working with an open platform from Alcidion.

However, there was agreement between presenters and advisory board members that an EPR, however, developed, is not enough.

Sadler said that while his trust had deployed Cerner Millennium, this was not the end of its IT strategy. Perry showed a slide that set out his strategy as an ‘onion’ with core functionality at its centre, and open, innovative systems for e-prescribing, analysis, and remote patient monitoring in the outer layers.

“An EPR is important, but to my mind, in our onion, it will be doing the core stuff and around the edge will be all the really exciting stuff: and that’s more or less what Will says,” he said.

Options, pros and cons

Bearing this in mind, the presenters and advisory board members felt there were pros and cons to the two approaches that less mature trusts will need to consider. A single supplier approach can get trusts a long way fast: one vendor pitches its system as “HIMSS 4/5 out of the box.”

There is a perception that this makes ‘big box’ the preferred option for NHS England, which picked a lot of single supplier trusts for the GDE programme, and NHSX, which has structured the digital aspirant funding and the UTF around a PAS plus EPR modules approach.

It’s also understood by boards. Neil Perry said one of his challenges was getting new leaders to understand his strategy. “You get the board asking why we don’t have an EPR, or why we don’t go and buy Cerner or Epic,” he said. “Regulators can also be a challenge.”

 On the other hand, a single supplier approach is expensive. Sadler said his trust chose to retain its patient administration system and running Cerner Millennium still costs half his IT budget.

There is also a danger of trusts deploying their ‘out of the box’ EPR functionality and getting stuck at its level. The GDE programme was set up to take trusts in this position to the top of the HIMSS EMRAM maturity model and to create a ‘blueprint’ for others to follow.

It worked for the trusts involved; but many of Gould’s “semi-digitised” hospitals will be running systems they got around the time of the National Programme for IT, with a bit of e-prescribing and e-observations, for which there has been national money.

So, perhaps the biggest argument for ‘best of breed’ these days is that it can encourage innovation. Perry said that as part of its 2017 strategy reset, his trust decided that “we didn’t just want to be an early adopter, we wanted to be right on the left-hand side of the adoption curve, in the red zone, working with start-ups and innovators.”

Byrne’s team has developed its own technology, including the My Medical Record personal health record that is being quite widely adopted, particularly for prostate cancer follow-up (the Highland Marketing advisory board has been following the progress of MyMR, and there’s more information here).

Challenges and opportunities

Parking the current lack of national focus, why haven’t more trusts made similar progress? Board-level support and funding are definitely issues. Sadler said that in his previous CIO role, at young fashion website Missguided, his IT budget was 22% of turnover. The three presenters estimated their budgets at 2-4% and said they needed 6-10%.

But it’s not just money. Cindy Fedell, a former NHS CIO who now works in Ontario, said people were also an issue. “You need a good CIO, who can understand strategy and understand their options,” she said; arguing that more should be done to support professionalism and certification initiatives.

Then, there’s local politics. James Norman, another former NHS CIO who now works for Dell Technologies, said when it comes to collaboration across a health economy, two of the potential reasons trusts go out to tender are that they’ve been formed in a merger, and it’s easier to pick a “compromise” system than it is to get people to work with each other’s IT, or they want to be on a different system to their neighbour/s to stop a merger happening.

Although Sadler said he’d have been happy to use a neighbour’s technology; if they weren’t trying to charge so much that it wasn’t an option. “All of that needs to stop,” Norman argued. “We should be working together as one NHS and sharing ideas and skills and systems.”

ICSs: a chance to level up to where the best are now, not where the GDEs were five years ago?

In the absence of a national strategy, one of the questions for the future is going to be how integrated care systems approach the job of drawing up IT strategies for their trusts and patches.

Byrne argued there is a danger that some could be tempted to bring in management consultants who will advise buying a new kind of ‘big box’ – a single EPR for trusts, with a health information exchange / analytics package / patient portal attached.

Which, he argued, was likely to be a bad idea because it would mean swapping out one v1.0 system for another v1.0 system. As an alternative, he outlined a three-pronged approach.

First, a proper evaluation of the level of digital maturity that trusts have achieved for the money they have spent, to identify best-practice and where best to allocate ‘levelling up’ funds.

Second, ICS or ICP-led, system-wide procurements in areas where these make sense: pathology, imaging, areas like maternity that are not covered by EPR functionality and have a strong patient component. And third, system-wide integration of existing IT, so organisations can exchange messages with each other and with patient facing technology.

“I think it has to be an evolutionary approach,” he said. “If people have some digital maturity, they should keep going, and keep thinking about how to build on those foundations. And it has to be clinically-led.”

Nicola Haywood-Alexander, the CIO for the Lincolnshire integrated care system, said she was hoping to develop a strategy around this kind of idea. “I want to build up an architecture across the ICS,” she said. “Instead of asking: ‘does this hospital need an EPR’ I want to ask: ‘what do we need across the system?’

“That way, we can use investment to support new kinds of thinking. A lot of work that is done in hospital at the moment is going to be done in the community or homes in the future. So, we need to look at what works in hospital and ask how we can get it into the community or homes.

“Then, with a bit of luck, we can get the aspirants to where the best people are now, and not where the GDEs were five-years ago.”


Highland Marketing’s advisory board: Jeremy Nettle, former global advisor for Health Sciences, Oracle Corporation; Cindy Fedell, former chief digital and information officer at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Andy Kinnear, former director of digital transformation at NHS South, Central and West Commissioning Support Unit; James Norman, healthcare CIO, EMEA, at DellEMC; Ravi Kumar, health tech entrepreneur and chair of ZANEC, and Rizwan Malik, divisional medical director of Bolton NHS Foundation Trust and managing director of South Manchester Radiology 

Highland Marketing is an integrated communications, PR and marketing consultancy with an unrivalled reputation for supporting UK and international health tech companies and healthcare providers, built over almost 20 years. Read more analysis and interviews on the Highland Marketing website, follow us on Twitter @Highlandmarketng, or get in touch on: info@highland-marketing.com

Open-Source Database Revolution in the Public Sector

By Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds

For years, it has been broadly accepted that the profile of open-source software as ‘higher risk’ goes against the principles of public sector technology procurement. Being free, not reputedly as safe, and via smaller vendors than the big players, has blinkered this industry to finding solutions which could be a better fit for the organisation.

Yet the digital age has done tech pros a favour by making open-source databases more widely accessible, which means it’s too good an opportunity not to explore. Public sector IT pros find themselves in the unenviable position of calculating the total cost of ownership and comparing open-source databases with commercial solutions.

Challenges for Database Managers

The realities of adapting to flexible workspaces and hybrid working introduces a new element of complexity for database managers, along with compliance and governance issues, ever-increasing data volumes and the need to process this data. Add to this the hybrid IT reality and the growing number of databases tech pros must manage. The scale of these pressures is evident in the latest SolarWinds Query Report, in which almost one-third of tech pros surveyed say they manage more than 300 databases at their organisations. And for most respondents, at least half of their organisation’s databases are in business-critical use.

Another factor driving public sector organisations towards being more broad-minded on open source is the increased need to work with various types of database platforms. This relaxation in brand loyalties has been a by-product of the digitalisation of the pandemic and is a result of the need for speed in deploying applications.

To move forwards at pace, many technology teams now typically buy their applications instead of building their own. The type of database is often dictated by a preferred database from the vendor, which is either relational or non-relational (the so-called NoSQL data platforms), and it can be open-source or commercial.

Commercial platforms still dominate—especially for business-critical applications—but open-source databases are absolutely on the rise. We’re at the beginning of a new era of mix-and-match data platforms, but there are some key considerations before investing in an open-source platform.

Does Being Free Have to Come at a Cost?

If open-source databases are free, should this raise concerns that something else has to give? When compared against the price tag of commercial software licensing fees, this subscription is a significant cost saving for IT budgets. It frees up budget spend for experimentation and increases the speed for IT projects to progress.

The open-source free license model levels the playing field for small organisations to access equally innovative features as their larger counterparts. With the added advantage of being smaller, less bureaucratic, and nimbler in decision-making, smaller public sector organisations aren’t at a disadvantage to improve their technology at speed.

Until recently, government and public sector organisations have been preoccupied with the legal implications and consequences and accountability, despite its free and accessible up-sides. Ongoing tech support is a concern open-source database manufacturers have addressed, due to patch-fixing and other historical concerns.

As any IT investment, weighing up cost versus value of open source is the biggest dilemma. A commercial tool may potentially save thousands of pounds a year in efficiencies and ongoing support, in which case the licence fee pays for itself. And when it doesn’t deliver, your contract will ensure maintenance fixes and professional support.

In contrast, the low-cost database platform may not be as sophisticated, but the clear cost savings make it an option for the organisation. To take a middle ground, technology specifiers can select the most common and well-vetted features of an open-source database platform to minimise risk while taking the financial perks. Commercial enterprises such as Red Hat, Debian, and Percona can be contracted with to navigate the minefield of issues and bugs which can come up in an open-source database platform.

The increasing popularity of open source is undeniable and snowballing. Forty-three percent of tech pros surveyed in the aforementioned report say they run MySQL or MariaDB. A further 18% say they plan to adopt MySQL, MariaDB, or another open-source database platform in the next three years.

There are some potential issues to be aware of before rushing headfirst into open source. The tooling isn’t always as sophisticated, and open-source platforms require insider knowledge to make them work as you need them to, beyond a basic level. For a business-critical application, it may be advisable to wait for better tooling.

Moving Forward With Choosing Open-Source Databases

Typically, the first question to address when selecting an open-source database is the required performance and workload capabilities of the platform. This must factor in the wider issues of security and compliance, which must run through technology in public sector organisations, and the cost or licensing on occasion.

It’s vital to ensure a dedicated team is in place to scope out the project, backed by the most senior database professionals in the organisation and the CTO. However, time to commit to this process is often an issue, as database managers are always busy with perhaps over 300 databases. This makes it a challenge to prioritise, but a vital one for innovation and development.

Our report shows the pressure tech pros are under to find time to investigate open-source databases or analyse potential productivity gains and cost savings. One-third of those surveyed said database maintenance takes up the majority of their daily tasks.

Benefits of Automated Monitoring

A key solution for freeing up tech pros’ valuable maintenance time and tech budget is to implement optimised automation using database monitoring tools. Monitoring tools run in the background, flagging issues before they become critical, perhaps even in real time, and quick fixes can be made to avert wider problems. Automation of database monitoring allows database professionals to focus on proactive database performance management, to include innovation, training, and scoping out open-source options. It’s the most effective way to manage hundreds of databases.

Just as for any private company, adopting a database monitoring mindset will be the key success factor for any public sector organisation IT strategy. Monitoring methods are a given when procuring a database platform, to ensure it can’t break without them knowing about it. Monitoring ensures all the processing cycles on a particular server and acts as insurance against bigger issues.

Lining up the team and creating time to scope out open-source databases will open options for what’s suitable for a public sector organisation. But before deploying one, it’s important to consider all options and potential risks, as well as the functionality versus the priority level of business application. And when installing the new database platform, remember automation and monitoring provide excellent support.

For those starting out or in early stages with an open-source database platform, the landscape is improving, and proper tooling will follow. If you’re still thinking about it, jump on the open-source train before you get left behind.

The Pandora Papers highlight the importance of watchlists as part of KYC and AML efforts By Barley Laing, the UK Managing Director at Melissa

Barley Laing, UK Managing Director at Melissa

The Pandora Papers have focused attention on the sometimes questionable and corrupt practises of the politically connected and super wealthy.

They highlight how important it is for the public sector to have access to international sanctions lists or watchlists from governments and regulators of persons who are prohibited from certain activities and industries as part of their know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) checks. A key part of this is obtaining data on politically exposed persons (PEPs).

In the UK, organisations have a legal requirement to undertake enhanced checks of both domestic and foreign PEPs. Doing so helps public bodies to avoid the possibility of hefty fines and brand damage resulting from the negative publicity associated with having someone already known to the authorities fraudulently claiming benefits or other services.

It’s not easy to identify PEPs due to the lack of a universally agreed definition of what constitutes one. The Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) defines a PEP as ‘an individual who is or has been entrusted with a prominent public function’. They are typically heads of state, government ministers, MPs, senior members of the judiciary, those on the boards of state-owned companies and central banks, and senior civil servants.

It’s important to realise it’s not enough to identify PEPs, as their relatives or close associates (RCAs) may also be involved in abetting possible fraudulent behaviour, so they must be screened for too.

There are several best practices for sourcing watchlists that contain PEPs and their RCAs:

  • Obtain data from trusted global sources

To effectively screen watchlists use an automated tool that collects and synthesises data from a wide range of trusted sources worldwide, such as government, regulator and credit agency. One that also continually scans for updates. It will significantly streamline the screening process and ensure those with access to it are constantly updated on any changes to a user’s status.

  • Undertake adverse media checks

To remain up to date on any new information on the status of an existing PEP who maybe using your services, augment the standard PEP screening process with adverse media and negative news checks. Such a tool scans the global news media and sources the names mentioned in the likes of the Pandora Papers, as well as news on those with new sanctions against them and where there’s legal cases pending.

  • Take a risk-based approach to watchlist screening

With budgets stretched it’s important to take a risk-based approach to watchlist screening, particularly with PEPs and RCAs. Investment should be focused on implementing enhanced due diligence measures for high-ranking PEPs and their RCAs, including those in territories where there’s a greater prevalence of corruption.

  •  Continue to evaluate risk when a PEP leaves office

‘Once a PEP, always a PEP’. It’s a good attitude to have. While someone who has departed the political arena may not pose the same level of risk they once did, they still may continue to have some risk associated with them. Once a PEP leaves office, consider risk factors such as their time in the post, extent to which they are politically connected, their continuing degree of influence and their country’s level on a corruption index.

  •  Access an automated solution as part of a wider automated AML activity

An automated solution that identifies those on disparate watchlists, including PEPs and RCAs, in real time, works well as part of a more comprehensive automated approach to KYC and AML. Use electronic identity verification (eIDV) that can cross-check – in real time – the details provided by the user against reputable data streams to ensure they are who they say they are. Also, when onboarding, document scanning with optical character recognition (OCR) and machine readable zone (MRZ) technology should be used to enable public bodies to immediately determine the authenticity of the ID documents provided online.

The Pandora Papers underline why public bodies must obtain a comprehensive list which has access to high-quality watchlists, in particular PEPs, from governments and regulators worldwide – one that also continually scans for updates. The list should also have automated functionality so it can be easily used in conjunction with automated eIDV and document scanning technology for an accurate, fast, and cost-effective KYC and AML process.

For more information about Melissa and how our ID and document verification services can help you prevent fraud please visit: www.melissa.com/uk, email: barley.laing@melissa.com or call: 020 7718 0070.

Bristow & Sutor win industry award for Webio partnership

Bristow & Sutor win industry award for Webio partnership – photo by Tangerine Photography.

The Midlands-based enforcement specialist was nominated for three categories at the Credit & Collections Technology Awards, held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester on Thursday 4th November. Alongside technology partners Webio, Bristow & Sutor were victorious in the Digital Business Transformation category and were shortlisted for the Innovation in Collections & Recoveries and Best Use of Technology awards.

The Credit & Collections Technology Awards recognise, excellence and innovation in the UK credit and collections industry. These awards celebrate solutions and innovations in lending, credit and collections through a range of categories related to technological needs and support.

Bristow & Sutor has over 42 years of experience in the collection of local council tax, non-domestic rates and unpaid Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs). The business partnered with Webio last year to implement WhatsApp Business API as an inbound channel for people in problem debt, providing more opportunities for customers to reach out and find a resolution.

Webio uses the power of conversation AI to automate and blend chatbot and live agent-customer conversations across a multitude of messaging channels. Conversation threads capture chat history and remain open 24 hours a day, which improves the quality of responses and ensures key information is logged and accessible whenever someone chooses to engage.

The enforcement firm predicted that many customers would feel more comfortable discussing their circumstances on message-based platforms as this removes any embarrassment associated with directly speaking about debt. This would also aim to be a useful tool for overcoming barriers such as anxiety or vulnerability. It was anticipated that allowing customers to instigate conversations and questions would have positive outcomes, especially on channels where debtors already feel relaxed, comfortable and safe.

Since adopting this updated technological approach, engagement from customers has grown to over 160,000 messages every month. Due to this success on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger has recently been added to the Bristow & Sutor Webio platform as well, with the same chatbot and automation flows applied.

Emma Watson, Head of External Communication at Bristow & Sutor, said, “Our first aim is to give customers relevant answers to queries on topics including balance confirmations, payment dates, and complaints in an efficient way and on platforms they know and feel comfortable using. 78% of messages received over the past year did not require human intervention to be resolved and consequently, Bristow & Sutor agents can now handle three times as many cases compared to responding via standard web chat. We are incredibly proud of the results we have seen since partnering with Webio and we are delighted to both receive this award and recognition from our peers.”

Cop26 shows it’s time for health tech to act on climate change

Susan Venables, founder and client services director at Highland Marketing

The NHS has already made a commitment to become the first net zero health and care system in the world. It’s time for digital health vendors to think about their role – and to be ready to talk about how they are tackling global heating, says Susan Venables, founder and client services director at Highland Marketing. 

Living in the highlands of Scotland, it’s been impossible to miss the build up to Cop26. Cop26 is just an hour and a half away, and it has been preparing for the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties for months.

Over the weekend, the news has been dominated by the arrival of the ministers who are supposed to agree the next steps on implementing the Paris Agreement and the pressure groups that are seeking to influence them.

For the next two weeks, Glasgow will be a riot of international debate, protest, and trade fair as the world looks on and asks the big question: it is going to be possible to deliver Paris and limit global warming to below 2 and preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, in comparison with pre-industrial levels?

Climate change and the NHS

It’s a big challenge, and one that matters to the NHS. Partly, that’s because it could see a big increase in demand if temperatures continue to rise. Public Health England reckons 2,500 people died in last year’s heatwave alone.

Partly, it’s because the health service itself accounts for 4-7% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, depending on whether you look at the carbon generated by its day-to-day operations or the many things associated with them, from food to patient travel.

The NHS is aware of this. In June 2019, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust became the first provider to declare a climate emergency. Since then, others have followed suit, including the mega-trust in Manchester and big name-hospitals in London.

NHS England has also picked up the baton. In October last year, its former chief executive, Sir Simon (now Lord) Stevens issued a report urging the NHS to become “the world’s first carbon net zero national health system” by 2040. That’s in less than twenty years.

Procurement will drive change, ready or not

I think health tech vendors need to sit up and take note of all this. Climate change is on the government and the NHS policy agenda. It’s already flying with influential trusts; and all NHS trusts will have to have a green plan by the end of the year.

The climate and health agenda will get another boost when England’s integrated care systems start work in April, because they have a population health remit and they will be working with local authorities that already have to consider the economic and social impact of their work.

Plus, when you look at the crowds gathering for Cop26, or the audience for net zero sessions at health events, it’s obvious that the climate and health emergency engages a younger, more diverse audience than most government, health or even digital issues do.

That means that health tech vendors need a good story to tell. In the short term, if you have a well-grounded, well-evidenced message, you are going to have a valuable differentiator in the market, and one that will resonate with a new and different audience for what you have to offer.

In the medium to long-term, having that message is going to be essential to protect your reputation and to continue to work with the NHS. From April 2022, every NHS tender will have a 10% net zero and social value weighting.

From April 2023, all NHS tenders worth more £5 million will require bidders to have published a carbon reduction plan, just to be considered. After that, the technical and procurement requirements on the NHS England roadmap only get tougher…

Tips for getting your climate message out

I don’t claim to be an expert on how health tech suppliers can demonstrate their contribution to keeping people well in a warming world, or on how they can calculate their contribution to the NHS carbon footprint, or their own carbon footprint.

The Highland Marketing advisory board is holding a special meeting towards the end of Cop26 to discuss these issues with expert input from David Newell, the head of health at Gemserv. But, as a head’s up: this is not about reducing a few travel miles or planting a few trees!

There are some gnarly things to get into, from thinking about how your data centre is powered, to working out how to provide support in a world where jumping on a plane is no longer an option, to examining the waste and working conditions in your supply chain.

Where I can claim to be an expert is in thinking through how companies need to present themselves to the health and care sector and how make sure that influencers and customers receive that information in the most effective way possible.

So, as a starting point, here are some basic tips for suppliers that want to start thinking about how they can build net zero into their marketing and public relations:

  • Make sure this is on your agenda. Look at the NHS England plan and its subsequent presentations, think about what is being asked of health tech suppliers, and what positive impacts that will have on your business.
  • Collect evidence. If you are engaged in a project that has a measurable impact on addressing the health impacts of climate change or reducing the carbon footprint of the NHS, make sure that you are capturing that information.
  • Share success. If you’ve done a great piece of work and you can prove it, a compelling press release or case study will raise your profile and demonstrate your credentials to potential customers and their increasingly engaged, increasingly savvy end-users.
  • Join the conversation. Cop26 is capturing headlines and NHS net zero plan is getting attention, but there has been relatively little commentary on the role of health tech. So, there’s an opportunity to shape the agenda through blogs, opinion pieces, podcasts and social content.
  • Prep for media opportunities. Both the mainstream media and the specialist health and tech press is starting to write about net zero. A well-briefed spokesperson ready to engage at short notice could secure you national press coverage that doesn’t come along all that often.

 The moment is now

Cop26 has really focused attention on climate heating. Hearing about the science and seeing the passion of the many young people who are pouring into Glasgow has made me realise that now is the moment for all of us to start thinking about how we can take action.

I want to be completely clear that I am not suggesting to health tech vendors that this is a great bandwagon to jump on or that they should have a friendly green message. Suppliers need to take a good, hard look at the carbon impact of their activities and to make a start on a plan for reducing that.

The other reason that now is the moment is that NHS England has published one of the most ambitious plans in the world for a net zero health and care system and is creating technical and procurement strategies to deliver on it. Companies can seek to influence those plans by showing the change they are making; or get caught up in change that is happening anyway.

Here at Highland Marketing, we always say we are looking for ‘health tech to shout about’. Increasingly, a commitment to net zero and social responsibility is going to be one of the things that health tech vendors are going to need to shout about; and that the NHS and its users will be expecting to hear.

Highland Marketing is an integrated communications, PR and marketing consultancy with an unrivalled reputation for supporting UK and international health tech companies and healthcare providers, built over almost 20 years. Read more analysis and interviews on the Highland Marketing website, follow us on Twitter @Highlandmarketng, or get in touch on: info@highland-marketing.com

7 Ways Teachers Can Inspire Girls into STEM learning

Dr. Jo Foster, Director of The Institute for Research in Schools, believes girls studying and working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) is a cause to celebrate and not one for complacency. Rightly so. In her 13th August 2021 article for Schools Week in this topic, she suggests that the increasing success of girls in GCSE science may lead girls to choosing to pursue STEM subjects, and perhaps even STEM, careers further down the line.

She however says this remains to be seen, and yet she adds: “We know from our research that carrying out real science research as part of the curriculum is motivational for students and teachers alike. It increases their enjoyment and makes young people more determined to pursue a career in STEM.”

“Despite years of interventions to encourage women into STEM careers, the gender difference within the workforce remains consistent across age groups; 29 per cent of 16–29-year-olds in STEM are women, and 28 per cent of 30–49-year-olds.”

Role models are an important way to inspire women into STEM learning and STEM careers. Teachers should therefore highlight women who’ve done well in these disciplines – both from the past such as Marie Curie – the Polish-French physicist, and from the present such as Dame Sarah Gilbert – the lead scientist of the Oxford- AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

Foster therefore comments: “We know it is important for girls to encounter examples of women who have succeeded in STEM careers for them to choose the same. And equally important is providing young people with opportunities to take part in and experience real research. Teaching science without it is like teaching football and never allowing the aspiring players onto the pitch.”

Job security

Sylvia Lim, at teacher at Robert Clack School in Dagenham, finds that girls are very much attracted to STEM subjects – particularly where the fields of STEM are conscientious in nature. Job security is another factor that decides which part of a STEM career they choose. “Often girls in STEM are interested in pursuing medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and the like”, she says. However, she has noticed that there isn’t much motivation amongst girls “to study STEM out of the desire to study engineering, mathematics or physics.”

Teachers’ support

There are organisations that have developed programmes to support women wanting to teach STEM. Teach First is one of them. Georgia Mumby, Storytelling Manager for External Relations at the organisation describes Lim: “She is a brilliant Science teacher who completed the Teach First teacher training programme in 2018. She is passionate about passing on her enthusiasm for the female scientists and teachers she looked up to during school and when studying Biology at university.”

In June 2021, Teach First published a report, ‘STEMinism: One year on’, which provides insights into how businesses can support schools and pupils to encourage them to take up STEM subjects and career – with a particular focus on inspiring girls. It discusses the ongoing challenges of improving women’s representation in STEM sectors. In fact, the report cites a TeacherTapp poll of 6,943 teachers, which was conducted on 11 March 2021, and which finds that “98% of teachers agree that schools should help break down gender stereotypes relating to subjects and careers.”

Teach Computing is therefore working in collaboration with the Raspberry Pi Foundation; STEM Learning; BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT; the Behavioural Insights Team, Apps for Good and WISE on the  Gender Balance in Computing (GBIC) research programme “to find out what works to encourage girls to develop an interest during their primary and secondary school years, and to increase the number of young women who choose to study Computer Science at GCSE and A level.”

Girls’ confidence

However, there is more to do than offer STEM programmes to girls and young women.  Girls’ confidence appears to be an obstacle. Philippa Hodgson, Graduate Software Engineer at IT firm Bridgeworks explains:

“In Year 7 and 8 girls are confident, but Year 9 it’s a different story as they begin to care about what other people think. There is a stigma with STEM topics as they don’t want to be seen as being nerdy. Rather than having a whole group of girls in science in Year 7, there would be just one Year 10.  One girl was nervous that the boys would mock her in a science. She became more confident when I sat to talk with her and encouraged her to contribute. The boys were very supportive.”

Her colleague, Sarah Potter, Test Team Lead at Bridgeworks, concurs: “There is a confidence problem that some girls and young women have that steers them away from STEM subjects.” When she went to school, particularly with regards to IT, there were no women teachers. However, in other science and maths areas, she says there was a better mix. There were nevertheless fewer female role models, and so she stresses it’s vital to up women role models to look up to.

7 top tips for inspiring girls

So, given these challenges, what are their 7 top tips for inspiring girls into STEM learning? They are as follows:

  1. Offer an open dialogue with pupils, from a very young age (even in primary school) discuss the wide variety of STEM careers and expose pupils to many different STEM careers from the get-go. Schools need more funding for things like science club and teachers also need to be given time and funding to support girls in exploring endeavours such as engineering projects or robotics.
  2. Provide and highlight female role models – including STEM teachers and women working in a diverse range of STEM careers – not just the obvious ones. Lim says it’s important to note that female STEM teachers at primary, secondary and in tertiary education can be fantastic role models for pupils. Inspiring girls to study STEM topics starts from day one of Primary School, and they need to be encouraged throughout their school life. It’s also very inspirational if the teachers have had STEM careers in industry. One of Lim’s teachers had a former career in biomedicine, while another was a biochemist. “They really made me think about where STEM could take me in life”, she says.
  3. Encourage girls and women to reach their full potential, suggests Potter: “From my own experience women are more likely to aspire to a more middle area where they feel a bit safer. One of the things I faced at school was being told to not apply to the top university, focusing instead on the ones I could get in rather than the ones I might get in.”
  4. Offer girls a more rounded education each year, covering a range of topics including STEM. When I was at a primary school, computers weren’t much of a thing, and it was very much dependent on what the teacher was interested in.
  5. Try to encourage girls to attend STEM clubs, says Hodgson as they give them the time for creativity to explore the topics. With most girls wanting to join subjects they feel more comfortable with, such as Art and Design, there is a job to do to show them that they can thrive with STEM – and enjoy it.
  6. Make science fun and explain the link to the science. Teachers will often do fun scientific experiments, but they could do more to reinforce the link to, for example, Newtons Laws used in this – this could be used in engineering jobs such as in Formula1.
  7. Offer better careers advice at school and college. Hogdson reveals she had very little career advice, and yet she advises girls to: “Be open to different possibilities and engage with universities, as well as to different areas of work. From an early age, knowing the possibilities would be better too. After all, not everyone will become a medical doctor.

Self-belief and opportunities

Potter concludes that the key to inspiring girls into STEM learning and careers has to be founded on teaching girls to believe in themselves – making them realise that STEM is a huge discipline. She explains: “There are so many areas they could go into. I joined Bridgeworks as a software developer, but I’ve gone into testing, but it wasn’t one I knew much about. When I was growing up, I looked at being a doctor, but I didn’t know things such as medical research, which might have interested me as a career.”

Hodgson thinks a new-found confidence can be created and instilled in girls by teachers’ enthusiasm for STEM, and that there is a need to remove any stigma associated with girls studying STEM topics. Over the next 5 years she would like to see more equality. She explains: “Whilst it’s improving, there is still a big divide between male and female students. I would like to see a bigger promotion of careers and jobs in the STEM sector. I was lucky to go with some students to a technology fair, but it only happened in Year 12 and so there was only a limited number of girls being introduced to these jobs.”

Hodgson concludes that while there has been a move in the right direction, there is no use in doing one STEM day a year at school or college. STEM has to be an all-year-round topic. Furthermore, with supportive STEM teachers who are willing to listen, to motivate and to address their pupils’ concerns, girls will be inspired into STEM learning and into successful future STEM careers. Amazing teachers have the skills to make change happen, and they can inspire both genders equally.

Published with thanks to Teach-Now – teach-now.co.uk/

By Graham Jarvis, Freelance Journalist

Weathering the Storm: Why IT Professionals Are Unsung Public Sector Heroes

Sascha Giese, Head Geek™ at SolarWinds

By Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds

2021 has been another year of challenges for us all, and for the IT sector, the changes needed, time invested, and adjustments made to public sector systems and processes are set to shape the future for good. While private sector businesses focused on survival, the public sector had to contend with pressure not only to keep afloat, but to keep the public safe and informed, and work towards a mass vaccination operation across the country.

For IT departments, enabling staff to continue working remotely has been key, as virtual working looks to take hold well beyond the pandemic. Adapting systems and developing solutions to help prevent the continuing spread of the virus has meant IT professionals, once again, have become the real unsung heroes of the public sector.

Recognising the relentless and stoic efforts of these workers in recent months, SolarWinds sought to glean a better understanding of the IT professional’s experiences, across a range of sectors with our IT Pro Day 2021 survey: Bring IT On.

 Our annual survey questioned global technology professionals from within the SolarWinds user community and highlighted the changing face of the IT landscape in the rippling wake of the global crisis.

What the Numbers Revealed

Questioning 287 IT professionals—including IT generalists, software engineers, developers, and security professionals—across the globe, the SolarWinds IT Pro Day 2021 survey revealed several insightful findings.

Unsurprisingly, the global health crisis has led to an exponential change for IT professionals, but one of the most favourable outcomes arguably has been a change in attitude towards their discipline. Of the tech pros who responded to the survey, 48% said they were proud of what they do, 44% love what they do, and 41% claimed this year has proven they’re more capable than they realised. The survey revealed an overwhelmingly positive perception of the role of the tech professional, and many look forward to what lies ahead; a staggering 81% of respondents said they believe there will be multiple opportunities to develop and enhance their careers in the next year.

As more than two-thirds (67%) of the respondents said they expect their level of responsibility at work to increase over the next year, career progression seems to be a key focus for many. When it comes to personal development, it seems IT personnel are increasingly beginning to recognise the need for nontechnical, softer skills that can be learned in daily life. Sixty-six percent of tech pro respondents reported collaboration skills (such as teamwork, listening to others, and networking) as the most important nontechnical skills necessary for advancement. Respondents also said the following experiences at home or in general daily life are perceived as most useful at work:

  • Time management (e.g., prioritisation, organisation; 69%)
  • Communication skills (verbal and nonverbal; 67%)
  • Interpersonal skills (e.g., adaptability, flexibility, patience; 66%)
  • Problem-solving (65%)

These less technical capabilities are set to play a key role in facilitating a range of responsibilities such as project management and more senior-level decision making, which 34% claimed was their biggest opportunity in the next year.

Tech professionals are anticipating further positive change when it comes to IT operations, with a prevalent focus on cybersecurity. With 53% of respondents citing cyberthreats as the biggest challenge they expect their organisation to face in the next year, they also stated that their organisations’ IT operations will evolve into the “next normal”, with prioritised investments to address the following challenges:

  • Implementing new tools and processes to better address security, compliance, and risk (68%)
  • Adding more collaborative technologies (44%)
  • Adopting next-generation IT operations solutions (40%)

Looking to the “Next Normal”

As long as the health crisis lingers, public sector IT professionals will have their work cut out, carving a more agile, reactive infrastructure for organisations to better serve the public. Having weathered the peak of the COVID-19 storm (it’s hoped), IT professionals have been the unsung heroes, working in the background to prepare for a more virtual workplace in the future and facilitating digital transformation on an exponential scale.

Looking to the “next normal” as the public sector evolves, tech pros have rightfully become an indispensable, more highly respected part of the wider operations, finally receiving the kudos they deserve, and gaining momentum to become more central and integral to the progression and advancement of their sector.

Cyber Security in the Public Sector: An Increasingly Lucrative Target That Needs Better Protection

by John Price, Head of Public Sector at Check Point Software UK&I

There’s nothing quite like a global pandemic with legally enforceable lockdowns to expose a demographic’s dependence on digital infrastructure. While the devastating SolarWinds breach in late 2020 made headlines around the world for its impact on corporations like Cisco and Microsoft and their thousands of customer organisations, the bad actors involved would have likely seen the private businesses impacted as collateral damage in pursuit of a much more lucrative target – the public sector.

The wheels of government have a reputation for turning slowly. Many governments, including the UK, are seen as overstretched, under-resourced in their response to potentially devastating cyber incidents. Take the WannaCry attack, for instance, which brought the NHS to a virtual standstill in 2017 because of unpatched and outdated software which took months to rectify. The government even had a £5.5 million deal in place with Microsoft to maintain support for the nearly two-decade-old Windows XP operating system long after it had fallen into obsolescence, which many would argue was an incident waiting to happen.

According to research from Check Point Software, there are 378 cyberattacks a week in the UK  and government organisations have become the third most targeted sector by cyber criminals over the past six months, ahead of finance, banking, manufacturing and healthcare. Threats such as triple extortion ransomware and supply chain attacks are on the rise, with malware such as Trickbot, Dridex, Qbot and IcedID surfacing more frequently, as outlined in Check Point’s Cyber Attack Trends: 2021 Mid-Year Report.

Any hopes that lessons may have been learned from this breach have been dashed this year as the widely reported Microsoft Exchange hack continues to cause problems within the public sector. Despite the vulnerabilities being identified in January 2021, with patches circulating as early as March, more than 50% of MS Exchange servers in the UK remain vulnerable at the time of writing, including those on the British government’s ‘gov.uk’ domain.  The public sector is, regrettably, a relatively easy target, but is it a lucrative one? Why are we seeing an increased number of bad actors targeting the public sector as we navigate our way through a global pandemic? As is often the case when it comes to malicious cyber actors, it’s a question of following the money.

What’s your data worth?

Data has value. It can therefore be extorted or sold on for profit. If a group of bad actors were to steal thousands of people’s credit card details by hacking into a private organisation such as a bank or online retailer, they’d fetch around £15 per record if auctioned off on the dark web. If, however, the same group were to attack an NHS trust and steal medical records, their potential profit would soar and net them more than £350 per record. And that’s not even taking into account the amount they could extort from the targeted trusts themselves. This isn’t helped by the fact that public sector organisations are often comprised of siloed data behemoths, so if a malicious actor is able to exploit a gap in their defences, the ‘pay-outs’ are often huge. As seen in the case of the MS Exchange and WannaCry incidents outlined above, responses to breaches in the public sector are often incredibly slow and poorly orchestrated, giving cybercriminals an even larger time window in which to exploit their targets.

Think resourcing, not outsourcing

Unlike in the commercial world, public sector organisations aren’t profit-driven and can’t easily justify the increased IT spend as a mere preventative measure. A year after the WannaCry attack, the government agreed a £150 million deal with Microsoft to equip all NHS computers with the latest Windows 10 operating system and ensure that all security settings were up to date. This is all well and good, but it took a catastrophic breach that put individuals’ medical records at risk to get budget approval. The public sector is, almost by definition, reactive instead of proactive when it comes to digital transformation. It’s there to serve, not to profit, and this leaves it vulnerable by default.

Part of that vulnerability is no doubt due to loss of control through third-party outsourcing. On the face of it, the cyber capabilities of the public sector and its employees are stronger than some of these incidents might suggest. According to the government’s annual report ‘Cyber security skills in the UK labour market 2021’, the public sector is actually surprisingly confident when it comes to performing advanced cyber security tasks. While a quarter of all businesses say they aren’t confident when it comes to penetration testing, for instance, more than 80% of public sector organisations are more than confident in their testing abilities. Similarly, 1 in 10 of all businesses say they lack confidence when it comes to user monitoring, but no public sector organisations report any such issue.

It’s only when we read further into the report, we start to see the real problems emerge. A quarter of public sector organisations have just one staff member responsible for cybersecurity and the percentage of public sector organisations outsourcing basic security functions such as firewalls, user privileges and backing up data, for instance, far outweighs that of the private sector. More than 95% of all public sector organisations outsource their firewall configurations to a third party; more than 80% rely exclusively on third parties when it comes to incident response and recovery; and almost half (48%) even outsource the control of internal user admin rights which, unless they have a very close relationship with their third-party IT partner, could have devastating security repercussions. So while the public sector might be confident in its cyber capabilities, that confidence might be ill-placed.

Good money after bad

In case you haven’t spotted it, the common theme here is a lack of internal resource and control. The technology is available, but only if the public sector is willing to continue putting up with the ‘technology debt’ it’s accruing through its overdependence on outdated internal tech and external cybersecurity solutions. According to a recent cabinet office report, keeping outdated computers going is costing the government roughly £2.3 billion per year, which is almost the same as the US government’s entire cybersecurity budget for 2021.

With a threat landscape that’s currently outpacing many private organisations’ capabilities, governments need to start thinking very carefully about their cyber security budgets, how much of their security solutions are outsourced, and how they can increase their risk posture in 2021 and beyond without continuing to throw good money after bad.

Check Point Software recently hosted a webinar entitled: “The State of Cybersecurity: Public Sector 2021” with experts from the field of cyber security in the public sector.  To access the webinar on demand visit: www.brighttalk.com/webcast/16731/504417

NEW CRISIS MANAGEMENT COMMUNICATIONS TOOL LAUNCHED BY EMPLOYEE SAFETY SPECIALIST

Peoplesafe Alert

Technology-led employee safety specialists, Peoplesafe, has launched a new mass notification tool designed for instant communication with employees in a crisis. Peoplesafe Alert is a simple, intuitive app which allows organisations to send and track mass safety messages to thousands of employees simultaneously, overriding phones set to silent or do not disturb and, if necessary, using geofencing capabilities to only communicate with those in a certain location.

Designed to be used in any crisis situation, the Peoplesafe Alert tool can be operated in real time and messages cannot be edited or forwarded to protect the credibility of the organisation and guarantee that the information is current, correct and constantly controlled.

With its own dedicated platform, the app can sit on multiple devices and operating systems which guarantees that the priority messages will cut through any other conflicting or distracting messages at the time of an emergency.

Although UK based, the Peoplesafe Alert app is available in all countries, meaning that employees can be targeted by country if required. This also means that messages can reach employees no matter where they are in the world when a crisis unfolds. When sending a communication, administrators have the ability to tailor the message to the recipient’s native language.

The tool is fully compliant with BS 22301 and the encrypted service is delivered from ISO27001 certified data centres which guarantees that an organisation is meeting regulatory standards for business continuity.

Emergency situations where Peoplesafe Alert would come into play include; extreme environmental events such as flooding or an earthquake, cyber-attacks, network security, control and access issues (such as recently seen with the outage of WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram) and outbreaks of infectious diseases.

This marks an expansion for the technology company, which has previously focussed on lone worker safety and protection products and services. Peoplesafe CEO Naz Dossa said: “While the experience of steering employees through the COVID-19 pandemic is still fresh in everybody’s mind, we need to look ahead and guarantee that business continuity will not be compromised in the face of any future emergencies.

“Technology has been absolutely crucial in keeping employees informed, safe and (in the most part), able to deliver their work. However, given that the pandemic was an unprecedented situation, lessons have been learnt. Peoplesafe Alert’s instant, precise mass notification abilities will enable an organisation to communicate effectively with all, or some of their employees depending on the emergency.

“As technology safety experts with many years’ experience, we are in a prime position to assist our customers so that they can both take care of their employees in a crisis and maintain business continuity using next generation communications.”

Peoplesafe Alert licenses can cost as little as £1 per user, per month, offering a scalable solution that can flex with the requirements of the organisation.

LIBERTY CHARGE SEEKS TO ADDRESS ON-STREET CHARGING DEFICIT WITH FULLY-FUNDED SOLUTION

Liberty Charge – new charge point operator

Liberty Charge chose the public sector and local government event, Solace Summit, to launch as a Charge Point Operator (CPO), committed to tackling the chronic under-supply of easily accessible on-street charging in the UK.

With 40% of the UK’s urban residents having no access to off-street charging on a private driveway, Liberty Charge will provide fully-funded charging facilities on-street to help Councils meet a very clear public need and support their local sustainability and clean air targets.

Working in partnership with local authorities, Liberty Charge takes on the ownership and cost of running and maintaining the EV charging stations, as well as the supporting infrastructure on which they rely.

In collaboration with its delivery partner, Virgin Media O2, it will roll out an initial 500 electric vehicle charging sockets across five UK local authorities by the end of 2021. The initial roll out will include the London boroughs of Croydon, Hammersmith & Fulham and Wandsworth. It will also include West and North Northamptonshire Councils, to help address the significant deficit of on-street charging outside the capital.

Currently, there are approximately 5,700 on-street charge points across the UK, the majority of which are in London, with only 1,000 outside the capital. Liberty Charge will be focused on accelerating this roll out in a bid to help meet one of the Government’s net zero goals of installing more than 120,000 EV charge points by 2025. This will also help accelerate the UK’s transition from fossil fuel powered vehicles to electric vehicles, as the Government works to phase out the sale of combustion powered cars by 2030.

Neil Isaacson, CEO, Liberty Charge, says with the current roll-out rate, the Government’s target is a challenge: “Local authority budgets are already under pressure and they often lack the capital expenditure to undertake such an investment,” he says. “By providing a fully-funded, reliable and convenient on-street solution, we can help local authorities make this national target a reality.”

Neil says there are currently 11 million UK households with no driveway and no way of charging their vehicle off-street: “With our strategy, and the support of our delivery partner, we can plug a huge gap in the market,” he concludes.

The Solace Summit took place between October 11 – 15 as a hybrid event, part virtually and part in-person at the Bonus arena in Hull.

DOCUMENT AUTOMATION SAVES TFL PAYROLL TEAM 160 DAYS’ ADMIN TIME PA

Reflections in the glass structure of the new, enlarged ticket hall at Victoria Underground station

Transport for London’s (TfL) payroll team is saving 160 days’ administration time per year, thanks to the introduction of a secure online portal that automates the production and distribution of payroll and HR documents.

The secure online portal not

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Drone data proves impact of positive environmental messaging

Ellie Mackay, Ellipsis Earth CEO, flying drone – photo: Ellipsis Earth

The most scientifically robust litter survey ever undertaken in the UK has revealed that positive, playful environmental messaging can cut litter and reduce plastic pollution. By creating bins that had positive, engaging messaging and strategically placing them in litter hotspots a 75% decrease

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How councils can lead the way to decarbonise transport with hydrogen

By Chris Hampton, Product and Business Development Manager – Hydrogen, at BOC UK & Ireland

Council Guide to H2

Councils and local transport authorities (LTAs) are well-positioned to take a leading role in de-carbonising the UK’s transport system. By updating transport fleets to use zero emissions vehicles, councils can lead by example and, even

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Vicki Gets Set to Energise Local Network Growth Plans

Vicki Dunn

Energy Assets Networks & Pipelines, a leader in final mile gas and electricity network adoption, ownership and management, has appointed a new Business Development Manager covering the north of England and Scotland.

Vicki Dunn, from Tadcaster near York, joins EAN/P with strong industry experience, having previously worked for companies involved in utilities

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