Lisa Emery, Chief Information Officer, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust
The impact of Covid on implementing digital technology and the diversity challenge in technology within the NHS
Lisa Emery is the Chief Information Officer at The Royal Marsden, a cancer specialist hospital. She started her career in the NHS with twelve-years as a biomedical scientist and later spent time in Dubai deploying patient administration systems, amongst other things, before deciding to specialise in IT. While women in technology-based roles are more commonplace in the NHS than a few years ago, Lisa believes that greater diversity is still needed.
"A whole big span of different digital things."
Lisa is responsible for digital strategy at The Royal Marsden where she heads a team of around 90 people. She explains: “We run our own service desk and data centres, which includes networks, telephones, devices, PCs and laptops. We deliver projects around digital diagnostics and genomics, with heavy emphasis on pathology and diagnostics, and we work closely with the research team, supporting them by giving them the research infrastructure they need, and delivering electronic patient record systems. A whole big span of different digital things.”
"My work is a mix of technology and some understanding of science."
Trained in medical microbiology, she started working in the NHS as a biomedical scientist. “I researched bacteria and viruses," she states. "It was really good fun, quite grubby at times but it was great.” Though clinical experience is not essential for technology roles, she points out that her scientific background is useful, acknowledging that “it’s helpful because when you’re talking to some of the doctors and researchers you’ve got some of the language and understanding about what they’re trying to achieve. My work is a mix of technology and some understanding of science.”
"I was reading the interview you did with Ayesha Rahim, and she described it [the impact of Covid] as turbo charging. I think she’s absolutely right."
Covid has had a big impact on implementation of digital technology in general, which is no exception for the Royal Marsden: “I was reading the interview you did with Ayesha Rahim, and she described it as turbo charging. I think she’s absolutely right. It really did. Obviously, it was very stressful for everyone, and we had to come up with tools so that everybody could work from home really rapidly. We’d already started planning and implementing some things, like Microsoft Teams, video-conference tools and remote appointments, but, in Ayesha’s words, we turbo-charged it. The pandemic has put digital in the spotlight for the health service which is great, so we’ve got to jump on it and use that momentum,” she says.
"In the NHS there is a diverse workforce but that’s not coming through in more senior roles. We’ve got to fix that."
Lisa acknowledges there is still a big diversity challenge in technology within the NHS: “Generally, in the NHS there are more women. But in technology, we’re less commonly seen. I do think it’s improved. There’s still a big diversity challenge in tech. I notice Ayesha also spoke about that, and I completely agree with her. So, networks like the Shuri network, which I’ve been doing some mentoring with are really important. If you haven’t got diversity in the team you’re delivering with, then you’re not representing the service you’re delivering to. By diversity I mean right across the board. Diversity enables really good decision making and a rounded approach. We’ve got a lot more to do in team leadership positions. In the NHS there is a diverse workforce but that’s not coming through in more senior roles. We’ve got to fix that.”
Communication, however, can be used to help improve the situation. “We need to go to colleges and schools," she states. "We need to give talks and encourage girls to understand that there are all sorts of careers. There’s been a tendency to send people down a coding route or a very technical route, but actually a lot of the roles that are also needed in technology in the NHS are change-led and transformation roles. There’s a big variety of options.”
Genevieve Shaw, editor