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Three major projects that could future-proof the NHS

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In starting the conversation about the project profession of the future, we need project professionals at all levels to lead by example, be open to new technology and ways of working in the digital age. But more importantly, if we don’t want the machine to stop, we need to champion the ethical impact of the changes we make to the planet and take responsibility for the world for future generations.

Keeping people alive longer increases the population. Consequently, the demand on stretched health and social care resources also grows. Approximately 10 per cent of the working population are currently delivering these services – we need more people to keep up with the demand. That, in turn, takes workers away from the sectors that produce the revenue required to fund essential services. 

This challenge has been explored in the Projecting the Future challenge paper on the ageing population, but the situation is not hopeless. Project managers have the skills needed to manage change and here are three projects that could prepare the NHS for the future:

1. Update the infrastructure

After decades of cuts to capital funding, infrastructure and technology, the NHS has a maintenance backlog that equates to £6.5 bn. While there is investment in exciting and ground-breaking innovation such as genomic medicine, the less glamorous refurbishment and upgrading projects get no attention and little funding.

Bringing the infrastructure up to safe and effective levels may not be achievable and we can possibly learn lessons from India, who skipped the second Industrial Revolution and went straight from an agricultural to a service industry economy and look at alternative methods of delivering some care in different settings and using remote technology.

2. Be more connected

In order to remain viable, the constellation of 600 plus independent organisations that make up the NHS, need to work both collaboratively and consistently across the sector to bring it up to date and functioning effectively.

The health and social care system isn’t just a collection of buildings and equipment – it is a complex organic structure of 3.3 million individuals who all interact to provide the services that deliver the care and support the population needs. In order to bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be, we need to develop the capability and change the mindsets of clinical staff and leaders. Many in the NHS have views of organisational autonomy that are feudal. Their only experience of technology in the workplace is pagers and fax machines.

3. Staff training and development

However, the health and wellbeing of those individuals, the training and development, and the opportunities for them to achieve their potential is critical to retaining and energising the existing workforce, to get past the survival mode of many currently in services and to embrace the opportunities AI and digital innovations offer. The NHS is attempting to address some of these issues through the NHS Interim People Plan and NHS Long Term Plan.

It’s all about projects

This is where portfolio, programme and change professionals can step into the breach and lead the overview, planning and delivery of the system thinking changes required. We can bring the skills and competencies required to support clinicians and service users in the design and delivery of healthcare services in new and more efficient ways.

In the NHS, the project profession is currently seen as a bureaucratic, process-driven, reporting function that gets in the way of progress. If we are to be respected for the value we can add and the skills we bring in delivering change in the digital age, we need to develop our leadership, systems thinking and digital capabilities.

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Brought to you by Project journal.

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