Well folks, its that time of year again, a reflection of 365 days; things that have happened, things that that I’ve heard, things that I’ve watched things that I’ve learnt.
This is the fifth time I have been able to do a review of the year, take a little time and reflect on what has happened to me over 12 months. As I looked back on 2016 I commented that I thought it had been a quick one, where has the time gone, this year seems to have evaporated in front of my very eyes.
One change that has happened that I would never have predicted at the beginning of the year was that I would be writing this blog back in Leeds, back in my home county, my home city. The decision to leave Ireland was not an easy one, but I have written about that already on here. Being back in Yorkshire with family and friends is a heart-warming change. As part of the planning process for coming back to Yorkshire my wife commented how strange it is when you travel, how you can wake up on one day a member of a great team in Ireland and within 24 hours migrate to being part of something quite new. Well, we are a month into something quite new and indeed something we have done before; maybe it’s the best of both worlds, it doesn’t feel like going back but more a forward leap of faith to try and test the next part of tomorrow.
I certainly dare not even try to predict what 2018 holds for us. I was lucky enough to meet Gus Balbontin (of Lonely Planet fame) this year. Gus was adamant that every time we create a plan a fairy dies, so, 2018 will be my attempt to do less plans, more simply considering what to do next and less dead fairies! And, if you ever see Gus on a list of speakers at an event go see him, so inspirational in so many ways, energy, storytelling, sheer will of determination to make you understand his message, awesome!
Travel has played a huge part in 2017 for me, a dream holiday at what will now become a habitual holiday time for us happened in February. A few days in Bangkok followed by two amazing weeks on Phuket. I never did the whole backpack traveller thing; I was too ambitious to get my career started! Being in Bangkok blew my mind, probably in less than 10 minutes of being there. Temples, lady boys, practically free bear, live food choices, huge market places and the most expensive glass of wine I have ever had all featured in a very short time in Bangkok. We were then on to the relaxing part of the holiday on a very sunny Phuket. It really did allow my brain to recharge but after a few days of that learning the basics of Thai boxing, heading to Café Del Mar on Phuket and then following in the footsteps of Leonado De Caprio were all new adventures and highlights, experiences that made it the holiday of a life time.
2017 was also the year of some formal activities too, becoming a god father was an amazing experience, the fact that two wonderful friends and people I feel I have known forever want me to help in the upbringing of their very beautiful second daughter was amazing, and leading a reading at the service was a highlight of the year. Setting me up for another formal event in a few short months, my brother and his amazing fiancée decided that I would be the right person to be their best man in August 2018. I guess a prediction I can make is that the review of 2018 will feature some stories from the stag-do in Las Vegas and the wedding in August.
I have had the great pleasure, as I have had every year, of working with some new amazing people, but in particular this year I properly got to know the team at Leading Social, a driven, aware, capable and unbelievably creative bunch, led by the ever up and ‘at’em’ Jamie White and the calmest and most considered side kick ever, Emma Klyne. When you meet an organisation like Leading Social and it becomes a partnership so quickly it always fills me with enthusiasm for what the future will hold.
Only one trip to Ibiza beats this years, and that one is unbeatable. But this year everything went so well, seeing Hot Since 82 and Purple Disco Machine, making it to some of the best day time dancing in beautiful sunshine with a lot fun scenery made for a great holiday, so much that the dates are booked straight away to repeat the experience.
When I first started writing this yearly review it focused on lists of music, the songs of the year, and yes I can’t not do that for my own piece of mind, but perhaps most interesting this year is the sudden re-emergence for me of albums, sets of music played in the order that the artist originally intended for the youngsters out there! New music by the likes of; Kolsch, Kink, Bicep, Terrence Parker, Jesse Rose, George Fitzgerald, LCD Soundsystem, Hercules and Love Affair, Honey Dijon, Anja Schneider, Maya Jane Coles, Purple Disco Machine and Emancipator have really given me something to look forward to when the release date came around, all recommendations for your listening pleasure.
Live music is still part of every month, and some of the best nights out have been gigs this year; James Vincent McMorrow in the grounds of Trinity University, Go Go Penguin, U2, The Happy Mondays, Loyle Carner, King Krule and Fatima Yamaha have all been part of the live experiences this year. Perhaps the best though was seeing Air at the Beatyard festival on a very very wet day in Ireland, one of those bucket list bands I had to see.
So one of the things I have done every year since 2003 is pick my songs of the year and keep them as a play list to go back to and enjoy, this years top 40 goes something like this:
The way taste changes, evolves and grows I find fascinating. Ireland changed my music taste, radio friendly pop music crept in, I am interested to see what being back home in Yorkshire does to it in 2018, certainly the gigs we are lining up would suggest a continued interest in those melody driven dance songs.
If we are going to do the songs list we may as well get the films (and TV Series) list up too;
|1 – Wonderwoman||6 – The Sinner (TV)|
|2 – La La Land||7 – Logan|
|3 – Stranger Things 2 (TV)||8 – 13 Hours|
|4 – Hacksaw Ridge||9 – Passengers|
|5 – Arrival||10 – American Gods (TV)|
I’m not always sure these were released truly this year but they landed on my screen this year and I enjoyed them a great deal. I stopped myself from adding Defenders and The Punisher and Luke Cage as well, that could have been a step too far. The second season of The Get Down did it for me as well but for some reason nobody else seemed to enjoy it the same, don’t you just hate that when your programme gets cancelled before it gets to some sort of fruition.
Being named as the number one CIO in the CIO100 was such a great moment in the year for me. The CIO100 is something I have been involved in for a few years now; being number 15 the very first year and the party that we threw the next day back at the organisation I worked for will stick with me forever. Being there at the front of the book was a wonderful recognition this year. I loved ‘giving’ the Oscar speech as well, making sure I didn’t forget the people that put me there, one day there will be a way of awarding the team of a digital organisation without so specifically calling out one person.
The after party that was arranged was pretty cool, one of the smallest clubs in London, in an old Gents loo with the most amazing dancing on stage, and me, in my celebratory state almost making it back-stage instead of outside will go down in my own stories of legend. The year kept being quite award driven though, a big surprise was a new category at the eGov Awards in Ireland, being announced by my Minister at the time as the winner of the Net-Visionary award was pretty cool.
Perhaps the best of the awards though was in early December at the Talent Unleashed awards. An award across the whole globe judged by Sir Richard Branson and Steve Wozniack, they decided to give me the award for the things that had been achieved in digital health in Ireland; most disruptive digital leader, it was such a great night in the museum of London and felt like a nice personal ‘round-off’ to three years in Ireland working with a wonderful team.
Meeting new people has an impact on all of us, in 2016 I met Fabian Bolin from War on Cancer, in 2017 I was able to invite him to a stage I was hosting, hearing his story touch people as it had done me a year earlier was a great moment. Disease and cancer in particular continues to touch so many people, we all have a story that makes an experience personal, to hear Fabian speak puts a new context on what we as individuals can do about it. In the job I do I try to talk to teams about being in it for the mission of making healthcare systems ‘right’, people like Fabien are the true inspiration for this as a way of being, a definite highlight of the year, a man who gave me so much courage through the year.
Talking of courage and teams; Wannacry as a highlight? Well in Ireland it was! Leaving Galway after a series of meetings a call came in from the NHS alerted us to the fact that something quite serious was about to happen. Those couple of hours gave Ireland the opportunity to get ahead of the curve and protect the boundaries of the system. I have never been prouder than on the Sunday hearing the roll call of people involved working so hard to do a job they did because they cared so much. It made for a busy weekend, TV and Radio and generally ensuring that everyone in health knew what to do when they touched a computer over those few days was something we now put down as a significant effect on the way Ireland came out of Wannacry. The team achieved the plaudits they deserved and for a short while the health system was seen as a leader in all things digital in Ireland.
Traveling for work became a part of the job in Ireland a part that was enjoyable although not always actually seeing much of the places I went to; Brussels, Malta, Barcelona, Estonia, London, Belfast, Richmond and Seattle all featured on the passport stamp in 2017. Perhaps the most fun travel though was the Maternity Digital Challenge; three cars in a challenge to visit every Maternity unit in Ireland (19 Units) in 24 hours and at the end of it publish a digital strategy for maternity services. The fastest piece of policy ever in Ireland and one that if acted upon fully will truly change the way maternity services are offered across the country.
The great thing about the travel side of what I do is obviously meeting people and the connections that then brings. Social media is a huge part of maintaining these connections, in 2017 a great many new connections have been made, the ones I continue to learn most from or truly inspire me on an almost daily basis include;
|1 – @MattHaig1||6 – @MrDanWalker|
|2 – @ValaAfshar||7 – @DrJessicaBarker|
|3 – @MuziekGeluk||8 – @Pnolan99|
|4 – @Nickisnpdx||9 – @Rosarii_mannion|
|5 – @TedRubin||10 – @evankirstel|
In 2018 there will be a new set of lists of the digital health leaders to follow coming out of Ireland and indeed HIMSS will be publishing their 50 global leaders, having featured in the Huffington Post social media lists I really think this is a great way of getting in touch with a different set of people that can expand what you know and what you want to learn. In the case of @Nickisnpdx and @MuziekGeluk I have met two people who genuinely have changed my life views. Two others in ‘the business’ that are also worth a follow are: @UKPenguin and @Andy_Kinnear, real digital health heros in a half-shell!
Life views get changed by events and people, Manchester and the impact the horrible events of that evening had on so many people will always now bare a mark on me. I love live events, and now they will always be a thought that goes out to those people that were harmed by the horrors of what happened in Manchester. I went to see Professor Brian Cox just days after Manchester, the odd calmness to the delays, the new acceptance of a normal that has come to us is quite scary. Professor Cox provided almost a eulogy for me in the way he delivered his ‘set’, how we are all human beings here on this planet for reasons unknown and yet so many people seem to be set here to destroy all that is good. In the wake of Manchester many people tried hard to stress the need to simply spread love not hate, I wish that would continue to hold strong in 2018.
You can tell you are getting older, not just by the amount of grey hair but by a change in the what you love to do when you go out. For me this year new restaurants have played a huge part in my entertainment; Tickets, Social Eating House, Amuse, Hang Dai, Punch Room, Café Del Mar, Blind Pig, Mulberry Garden, Tattu, Cats PJs and Headrow House have all made a difference to the nights out I have enjoyed.
I have managed to get to the Café Del Mar on Ibiza, Barcelona, Thailand and Malta (Although Malta is a ‘fake’ version) and I am lucky enough to be adding Miami to the list in a couple of months, which just leaves Dubai. Amazing music, super food and normally some pretty cool entertainment make the Ibiza version of Café Del Mar still up there in the top places for me!
One of the last things I got to do in Ireland was a little dream come true, speaking at a literary festival. Something Wicked is a little crime writing festival in North Dublin and I had the great honour of speaking at it on the threats of Cyber Crime and how the world is changing through digital. It was a superb audience with a lot of smiling faces and great discussion and questions after. I would love to do it again in the future I enjoyed it so much.
Being back in the UK re-opens one of my other favourite pass times, shopping! With Vivian Westwood, Jeffery West, Pretty Green, Paul Smith, Jigsaw, Hip, Ok Comics, All Blues Co. and so many more wonderful shops in Leeds Saturdays (When Barnsley FC aren’t at home) are going to be fun and have been already since getting back here.
My last two memories of Ireland and 2017 are people based, my parting gift from Roisin Doherty was my very own certificate of my Individual Health Identifier, seeing that on paper and it being able to be used to aid in the delivery of my care is a great achievement for a small team of dedicated and inspiring leaders, none more so than Roisin who I can safely say is one of the most accomplished Project Managers I have come across and I know will go on to do amazing things in the digital health space, a definite highlight of 2017.
Last but not least was leaving Niamh, my trusted sidekick for only a couple of years but leaving someone who has helped you so much was difficult, we joked in those last few days about the importance Niamh has played in the success of eHealth Ireland, for those that are still involved on the Green Isle, it was no joke, Niamh is the centre of that world and intrinsic to its success. Working with someone who simply gets what you are doing was a great part of 2017, a lot of laughter was shared.
So here we are, on the verge of 2018. A new team, a new goal, a new environment and a new outlook, last year I leapt into 2017 with a new motto; ‘We can achieve, we truly can.’ I was full of vigour for not doing things like we always have, doing something different.
2018 is going to be the year that I work with my new team and try hard to;
‘… change what we do to change who we are.’
Small changes, small moves of the behaviour dial is all it takes to make a difference when the team you are part of is as good as what I have inherited here in Leeds. The culture I now work within can and will be our advantage in 2018 and I want to be part of the changes we each make more than anything else. After all as Bob Dylan says, ‘There is nothing so stable as change.’
We are in the year of the Rooster, so every morning I will try hard to wake up with the call of the Rooster ready for the next new challenge!
The 31st of July was a very sad day for me, it was the day I had to sit down with the Director General and say those words, ‘I resign as CIO of the HSE.’ Nearly three years in Ireland has been amazing. In the following week one of the team asked me, ‘was it a hard decision?’ Yes it was, one of the hardest I have ever had to make, over the last three years I have met some of the most committed and talented people I have ever had the pleasure to work with, a team of people who truly, with the right support, can change the face of a country!
Some of you will have heard me tell this story before, so please forgive me; my second day in Ireland, I grabbed a taxi, the Dublin driver turned to me and did the usual, where are you from etc, and then asked what brings you here? I replied without hesitation, somewhat green to Ireland and the culture, that I was working for the health service. The taxi driver stopped in his tracks and said, “You have a lot to learn, you have joined the second most hated organisation in Ireland, after water Irish people hate the health service the second most!”
I assumed he was joking, but no he was kind of right. The health system of Ireland is not a loved system, its not cherished, its described as bloated, regularly someone has a ‘pop’ at it being top heavy, or spending money wrongly, or deploying resources in the wrong places. Yet, here we are with a health system that every day saves hundreds of lives, a system that has a workforce like I have never seen before, a committed one that knows how to deliver care with compassion and often against adversity.
Let me take my own crisis management experience in Ireland, Wannacry, as an illustration. On the Friday evening the team identified the global impacting issue was heading our way, without any consideration for the plans for the weekend the team mobilised, created a defence strategy and set about working all weekend, all hours of the weekend, to protect the systems that delivers care to the Irish citizen. Nobody was paid to do this, no one received any bonus, time off in lieu or really any kind of recognition other than a heartfelt thanks from the system. In fact some ‘friendly’ people on social media suggested that the strategy adopted was even wrong, and that the focus should never have been needed if the HSE had been more prepared. I was so proud when on the following Tuesday we returned all systems back to normal and were able to say we had protected Ireland when others across the world had not been able to achieve the same.
Leaving this role, not being part of the team in the HSE leaves me with so much trepidation; the personal focus that so many people have put into the changes that we have made over the last three years is significant, I wonder if this ‘perfect storm’ of personalities will ever be created again. One of the first programmes of work I ever owned in healthcare was the delivery of a system called the Data Transfer Service (DTS). The solution was a new way for primary care and acute and administrative functions to share information securely and in a timely fashion and we had to deliver this in thirteen months, this was back in the late 1990s. I thought that was the best team I had ever worked with until I came to Ireland.
The team make-up is a happy accident that has evolved to be one that I will look to emulate elsewhere. The team is a mixture of evangelists, sceptics and pragmatists, after a couple of years in the role that mixture hit the right balance. The team has a group of people who believe in being open and a sub-set who understand the need to be closed. The creativity in some has been astounding and the sheer dogged focus to keep going in others has given us a drive that has seen us get to the finish line on so many projects.
What I have learnt is best described by a Yorkshire phrase; “It takes all sorts!”
Handing the team to a respected, committed and digitally enthused leader has given me a new reflection on what can be achieved. The team are gathering around my interim replacement ready to support her and help her continue the success, not just of the last 3 years but the building success that the team has been trying to achieve for the last decade. There are some new tools now; a ‘brand’ that is synonymous with success and openness is in place in the form of eHealth Ireland. The health identifier is a foundation for information stored digitally, enabling a leap forward in patient safety initiatives with a data flavour. Ireland and its health system has a renewed vigour for what can be achieved in healthcare through the foundations of a digital system. Its first examples of digital hospitals are live and are a success, the programme to sequence the genome of patients with suspected epilepsy is changing the lives of many people this year, people with a disease that is often not considered high enough up the agenda. The readiness to consider innovation, how to work with the new, the fresh, the different ideas is also now part of the way the Irish healthcare system is changing and delivering benefit. In the last 12 months alone there have been over 50 new digital solutions deployed into the health system, each of these implementations requires the unwavering commitment of a team to make the system live and support the system going forward.
Perhaps the biggest ‘thing’ that we have achieved though in the last three years is to place the possibility of digital in health on to the agenda. We have a minister who says that digital is no longer a nice to have, we have a HSE leadership team that has embraced the concepts of digital into the way it works and the way it considers reform. The representation of all of this is the passion of the team that deliver this though, as my goodbye reflection I want to pause here and call out, maybe even embarrass a few of them, “live” on this blog site, to be remembered here and learnt from in the future.
First and foremost, an often unsung hero of the team is Joyce Shaw, the driving force in how we have transformed as a team, a lady with a passion for the team, how It works and perhaps most importantly the reality of people working hard together. Joyce is the conscience of the team!
The most considered, calm and truly gentlemanly Fran Thompson would be next on my list of essential elements to any team of the future. Without Fran being there through thick, thin, muddy and clear so much of what has been achieved in the last three years would have got absolutely nowhere.
When I consider the team that we were in December 2014 and think about the difference people have personally made I have to call out Michael Redmond as well. Michael is a true example of a leader building through engagement. Working with Michael and seeing him go from sceptic to optimist over a three year period of time has been one of my own personal highlights.
The eHealth Ireland committee has been a joy to work with, and is a group of people I now call friends, Eibhlin Mulroe, Derick Mitchell, Andrew Griffiths and the ever committed Mark Ferguson have ensured that the path we have walked has been supported. The success of the eHealth brand can be put down to these people and others in the committee who work hard in the background ensuring that we can make a success of what we do.
I have been lucky in that I have worked for two ministers who have wanted to engage with the digital element of health in a different way, they have taken a personal interest in what we do as a team, supported us and been there for us. eHealth Ireland has been able to enjoy an open door to both ministers over the last three years an acceptance and realisation that the team here in health is a high performing team of committed and capable staff is a great by product of that engagement.
A wise old colleague of mine said to me once that those of us that want to evolve and change simply need a good manager, once that person is in place we will be able to achieve anything. It felt a little like a piece of Jedi advice at the time but working for the DG of the health service here in Ireland I now understand. The DG has empowered us to get on with it, insisted we stay calm in the most stressful of situations and supported all that we have tried to do in a way that ensures success, certainly without this support we would still be thinking through how to make some of what we have achieved happen.
There is space for just two more names on this list for fear of it turning into a gushing speech that no one will read.
Niamh Falconer is my conscience, where Joyce ensures the team has a voice in everything Niamh reminds me of my voice in everything, caring for me and reminding me that successful change needs time to happen and time can’t be magically created; although she has had a magic wand in her hand for the last two years doing Tinkerbell like tricks to make sure we can do what we need to do.
Last but not least is Maria O’Loughlin, when grey clouds appear Maria has blown them away for so many parts of the team. She has a unique ability to translate ideas into reality whilst adding a shiny creative style to them, if we adopt Pareto’s rule Maria is the way to achieve the last 20% in all that we do.
Calling out individuals is dangerous, I know that, the reality is that in every single case of every person I have worked with over the last three years they have touched what we have done and indeed who I have become in some way, I would love to simply list everyone here now but no one would find that an interesting final comment from me.
A vision of the future has to be my final comment, I came to Ireland in October 2014 to present at the HISI conference what my vision of the future would be, I think much of that vision is still valid! The purpose of eHealth in Ireland is to create digital as a platform for change, a platform for a health service that has every citizen’s health and wellbeing at the heart of what it does.
If I could have a final wish it would be;
… be ‘nice’ to the system that is there, help it continue to evolve.
It needs to find a new way to celebrate what it is, the Health Service Executive is the life blood of this country, treat it as that, realise what is limiting its capability and focus on fixing that rather than damaging and attacking the resource that is at its disposal. The HSE is an organisation that is committed, it is an organisation that is caring and it is an organisation that is capable, treat it as that and it will deliver the best healthcare system for the population of this great country.