Health

NHS Digital CEO calls for “consistent and honest” leadership to help spread innovation

By - Public Policy Projects
NHS Digital CEO calls for "consistent and honest" leadership to help spread innovation
  • Simon Bolton, Interim CEO of NHS Digital, spoke at PPP’s Annual Conference for Healthcare and Life Sciences on Monday  

  • Bolton called for the health sector to “come together” seize “unique opportunity” presented by Covid to develop new ways of working 

  • NHSD boss calls for “consistent” and “honest” leadership from the centre and to allow innovation to spread from the frontline 


New interim CEO of NHS Digital, Simon Bolton, outlined a vision of collaboration for the health service and called upon disparate parts of the sector to “come together” in the aftermath of the Covid-19. Mr Bolton also went on to stress that the pandemic, “has encouraged us to rethink classical care delivery, forcing our hand to create real alignment between services”.

The new NHS Digital boss was speaking at the Public Policy Projects (PPP) Annual Conference for Healthcare and Life Sciences on Monday, the first PPP event to be held in person since start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bolton stressed that collaboration is essential to generating trust throughout the system, which in turn is crucial to allowing innovation to spread across care delivery. He said: “We need collaboration between all parties to facilitate innovation."

"What I see in NHS trusts are people that are close to the patient are taking innovation into their own hands"

“We need to establish how we [NHS Digital] can provide the framework for people to innovate," he said, "we must be clear on what we do and help define standards and recognise where people have autonomy and were they do not.

“What I see in NHS trusts are people that are close to the patient are taking innovation into their own hands. We can see this with the development of virtual wards and triaging innovations for instance. These are innovations that are happening because smart people close to the problem are being given the tools they need to resolve it. ”  

While recognising the need for nationally mandated systems and set standards from central leadership, Bolton called for successful innovation to be scaled throughout the system. To achieve this, he said, central NHS leadership would need to develop agile approaches to leadership.

“We have a massive opportunity to significantly change health outcomes for the better, but we cannot become arrogant, the centre must be clear, consistent and honest with its intentions and method.

“I do not see a distinction between NHSD, NHSE and NHSX as we are all part of the same team…too often in the past we have tried to score goals against each other, but now we need consistent, joined up, leadership.

“The centre must determine its place and where it can add value. For NHS Digital, the key question for us is what are the data standards within which we need to operate. ” 

Bolton originally joined NHS Digital in August 2020, following a stint as Chief Information Officer of NHS Test and Trace.

Reflecting on his time at Test and Trace over the course of the pandemic, Bolton praised the achievements of the organisations. He said: “While Test and Trace received negative media coverage, the group was able to help foster a new sense of collaboration between different parts of the health ecosystem, between the centre, ICSs and the NHS. ”  


The Annual Conference for Healthcare and Life Sciences was the first Public Policy Projects event to be held in person since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 300 senior leaders from across health, care and life sciences came together to discuss profound challenges facing health and care and to put forward actionable insights to address them.


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