Tim Kelsey leaves NHS England to play a new tune with the same notes down under

Tim Kelsey

So. Farewell then. Tim Kelsey, director of patients and information at NHS England, and the driving force behind NHS technology plans, will be off to Australia and the private sector.

He tells us he made this difficult decision so he can ‘develop next generation digital services for patients and professionals that I hope will help all of us take more control of our health and care’.

This will come as no surprise for the man who, with Dr Foster, used data to show huge variations in hospital performance.

It will come as no surprise to those who read his speech in advance of NHS Expo earlier this month, where he called for urgent action on the wider use of technology, arguing it is “a moral imperative. Patients are put at risk where paper is the currency of clinical practice,” he said.

This accomplished musician banged the same paperless drum when he spoke to the Highland Marketing Healthcare Roundup in January 2014. “The NHS reliance on paper based records is potentially very dangerous for patients,” he said, a message he has been keen to repeat since he first joined NHS England.

It was a theme he developed in the National Information Board’s technology framework, and which, with senior endorsement, is now setting the score for NHS technology as a whole.

There are striking similarities between what he has been trying to achieve in England, and what he hopes to do in Australia. So why has Kelsey decided to leave the NHS England band when it was starting to play his tune?

Could it be that he saw that he would have to keep banging the same drum, year after year, meeting after meeting, and workstream after workstream, to help the NHS’ 1.4 million strong orchestra ‘get it’?

Was he disappointed that the Tech Fund, the investment opportunity for new technology that could make tangible his vision of a digitally-driven healthcare service, looks increasingly like a one-hit wonder?

As James Norman, another visionary individual that left the NHS for the private sector, said in his recent guest interview, there needs to be investment in IT and IT leadership to realise these ambitions. Is this a factor?

Or did he see so many others leaving the NHS band that he felt that he should do the same?

Kelsey is a jazz musician, and as with jazz, his style is not to everyone’s tastes. But he has turned the cacophony of UK health technology into a recognisable melody that is beginning to catch on.

We now need a strong band leader to keep putting the right notes in the right order, and play the songs that will get everyone on the digital health dancefloor.

What happens next will show us the tune that NHS England wants to play in the health technology market. We wait with baited breath.

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