Prior to joining Kings Facilities Management as Director of Technology in January 2020, Denis Lafitte spent over a decade working in numerous private sector organisations from Atos to Centrica. His last position as Head of Digital Transformation at Spire Healthcare Group saw him defining the vision, roadmap and strategies of Spire’s digital function transformations. Having seen the power of digital technology in healthcare markets he sought a new challenge, looking to the NHS. Here he speaks to McLean’s Toby Gebbie about the impact technology has in healthcare.
We are hugely grateful to Denis for taking the time to answer our questions in this difficult climate.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the challenges you face in your move from a private sector organisation to a public authority?
A: This is my first role in the public sector, and I must admit I was concerned about the transition. King’s Facilities Management (KFM) is a Limited Liability Partnership owned by King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The NHS is a fantastic organisation and delivering healthcare for the entire country is a challenge a single private organisation would struggle with. The one thing that struck me most is the lack of forward financial planning. I assumed I would find a lot of stability on that front, but I never appreciated how much the lack of long-term political planning has a direct impact on trusts. In the private sector you know that if your annual results look the way they should you will get the funding you expect. It’s much harder here and that means you need to provision for that uncertainty.
KFM is in a slightly peculiar position, and I think it’s our strength. We are indeed a public authority, but the culture is very much what you would find in a start-up. We are small, focused and attract a mix of people from both public and private sectors. That made the transition easier for me, and I believe we get the best of both worlds. Our focus is fully on backend support functions – managing suppliers, transformation and efficiency – and not in the direct delivery of clinical services.
Q: Can you say something about the power of ‘Big Data’?
A: I’m sure you are familiar with the “Data science hierarchy of needs”. If not, I would encourage you to have a look at it. A lot of people have commented on it and I strongly believe it can help every organisation. The problem the NHS face from an IT point of view is the plethora of systems. You can probably find several versions of every single system ever written inside the NHS. It makes the efficient collection of data an impossible mission across the country. A number of national initiatives are in progress and there is a strong push for interoperability, but we are not there yet. At KFM our vision is to focus on procurement data. Being able to concentrate on a single part of our business gives us a greater chance of success. We have a vast amount of expertise in transforming data into financial value. Our model is fairly traditional, and we are (so far) focusing on structured data with the aim of creating a model that would work for any trust in the country. This could save the NHS millions of pounds and shift the balance from large suppliers to taxpayer. Once the problem of collecting and standardising is resolved I don’t see anything standing in the way. The rest of the process is fairly standard, and we have the relevant in-house expertise.
Q: How can/is technology help with supply chains?
A: Our supply chains are being stress tested to the limit at the moment. Some suppliers who used to sell 4,000 pieces of medical equipment a year told us they have already had to supply 40,000 items in the past 3 weeks alone. This is the perfect storm; the entire world is trying to buy the same thing at the same time and is prepared to pay any price for it. We have a large procurement team; they are being very creative to find the best solution for King’s and for our customers.
Technology is paramount to ensure we keep our controls in place and don’t duplicate effort. We have invested in a new Purchase to Pay system in the past 12 months. We are using Optical Character Recognition and are in the process of going live with Robotic Process Automation This is crucial in times like this not only because the volume of work has never been so high, but the number of staff facing health difficulties themselves is growing.
I’m sure you have read in the Press about some NHS trusts having tracking issues with the most in-demand consumables. Our new track and trace system allows us to track anything the supply chain team moves inside the hospital. We use automated store cabinets everywhere to allow clinical personnel to self-serve and automatically re-order. Nothing I’m describing is new due to COVID-19, but all these technologies are showing even more benefits when clinicians are so stretched.
Q: What about Applications?
A: My background is in Apps and this is always one of my key areas of focus. I’ve only been in post for three months, but as always, I’m trying to make the best of what we have already in place. We have some of the big software vendors already in place and I want to use their solutions as much as I can before shifting to another product. You will always find that by listening to your end user you can deliver a terrific amount of value for very little cost. I’m trying to create a customer focused organisation asthey are the ones driving 100% of our software road map. We always have great success when we manage to build a single team with IT and all the business units involved in one process. IT is about managing information, and this is only possible when you create a culture where people can exchange, disagree, and in the end agree a compromise.
Q: And Healthcare and Communications?
A: The past few weeks have been extremely busy for us as we set up home working. It’s not just us in Healthcare, but with COVID-19 the emergency was very real for KFM. If a radiologist is self-isolating, for example, and you can deliver a full reporting station to their home, then they can still be part of the team. Remote working was almost non-existent in the trust a few weeks ago, and we had to create most things from scratch. We are now in a better place and ICT have worked countless hours to achieve this. Microsoft has offered the NHS a 3 month version of Teams. This is a great step forward. IG had often got in the way of innovation in healthcare and sometimes it went too far. These dramatic events are forcing entrenched mindsets to change and I hope this change will crystallise. Of course, IG is important, but not if it gets in the way of giving the absolute best care to our patients. Clinicians are some of the brightest people in the world. They have embraced all these technologies instantly and created new ways of working.
Q: Considering the current climate is there anything you’d like to say to the staff of KFM and the Trust?
A: I can’t comment too much about COVID-19. You can see in the Press the amazing work the NHS is doing. I can only tell you from the inside that it’s really humbling to see how people put their own fears aside when they walk into the Trust. We all have family and friends, but we think about what we can do to help our patients and colleagues. I’m not from this island, but all I can say is we keep calm and carry on.
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