Tommy Henderson Reay is Digital Transformation Lead at the National Care Forum and a registered social worker. For the past couple of years Tommy has been doing vital work in digital for the social care sector. We had a chat about his career, his passion for informatics and its value within social care.
Please can you introduce yourself and explain what your current role is?
Hello, I’m Tommy Henderson Reay; I am a registered social worker and my role is Digital Transformation Lead at the National Care Forum. As an organisation, the NCF represent over 100 not for profit care providers across social care. My role is wide ranging, but broadly speaking can be split into two streams of work. Firstly, we work with our members to understand, engage and support their development of technology, digital, information governance and informatics. Secondly, we represent our members across the national landscape, for example the NHS, LGA, DHSC, Digital Social Care as well as IT suppliers and other membership bodies and support groups within social care.
There is a great deal of variance in terms of understanding and using digital technology amongst care providers. Some providers are at the forefront of technology in care, whilst others are only recently embarking on using digital. Therefore as a digital lead I have a very important role to play. So many care providers are busy maintaining a service and providing excellent care in demanding times – therefore understanding what is happening in a digital space is not always possible, so it’s my role to involve and incorporate providers.
What sparked your interest in clinical informatics and how has this developed throughout your career?
Great question! I certainly wasn’t trained in informatics and hadn’t heard of the word until 2 or three years ago. I think I became slightly disillusioned with some of the process-driven nature of social work and how IT systems and form structures were influencing how social work was being ‘done’. Equally I saw the value of how data was influencing the way the NHS worked and yet I wasn’t able to say the same for social work as a profession, or in fact social care as a whole sector.
This bothered me greatly (and still does!) and I continue to maintain that social care data is incredibly valuable to the person as well as the whole system. Yet if you look at curriculum structures and career paths, there is very little to suggest that informatics is being used in a coherent manner across social work. As a result, I have managed to carve out a career path as a social worker interested in people as well as informatics!
I continue to be interested in clinical informatics because I know that it is eminently valuable to social care itself but also to the NHS. If we all want to see greater joined up care, sharing of records and good quality person-centred care, as well as having informed social care informaticians, is absolutely vital. At present we don’t have this, so I am on a mission to change this. It is a huge task but you have to start somewhere, right?!
As a recent member, could you let us know what led you to join the Faculty and how you envision its function in progressing the clinical informatics landscape?
If I’m honest, the decision was quite simple in the end. I have long advocated that social care should have parity with the NHS from governmental policy to front line engagement. If social care is to be taken seriously it needs to have clinicians who back that up with credentials, therefore joining the Faculty was a way of:
a. taking a career in informatics seriously, and;
b. assuring a sense of kudos as a clinician in social care.
I think it’s important to add that there are a lot of wise heads within the Faculty and by joining the community I am better off for it. Our jobs can be challenging at times so a sense of collaboration and learning from others is vital to aid longevity in the job.
It’s clear that informatics is not just for health, therefore the sign of a healthy faculty would be one that reflects a broad church of professions, skills and experiences across the health and care sector. I would also add that I would like to see the Faculty influencing how clinicians are trained so that informatics as a concept is embedded into psyche of the relevant profession, rather than being something picked up post qualification.
In your view, what benefits can informatics bring to social work and social care?
I have lots of views on this subject and social work in particular has shied away from informatics because it erroneously believed that informatics erodes a person-centred approach to care. Despite this, social work involves making significant life decisions with and/or for people using the information they have at their disposal. The use of informatics is then a way of reflecting on practice using more robust evidence to help make the right decisions for people.
For example, informatics could form a vital piece of evidence as to whether a child should or shouldn’t be taken into care, whether a person could benefit from a piece of innovative technology to increase independence at home, to reduce the risk of a urinary tract infection and avoid hospital admission, or use of care home data from acoustic monitoring to establish whether a person’s movements at night warrant intervention.
These are deliberately broad and wide-ranging examples, because the value of informatics for social care is incredibly wide ranging and brings about all the benefits relating to staff burdens, cost and resources across health and care that have been talked about before. I am not suggesting that informatics forms the answer to decision making but it has the capacity to provide more depth to the professionals thinking about a particular course of action.
How can we encourage further collaboration and integration between health care informatics and social care informatics?
This is a big question! My experience, having worked for local authorities, the NHS and care providers is that it has to start with understanding. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that all sides fully know where the other is coming from, which makes the challenge of integration that bit harder. I am not convinced the NHS really understands what social care actually is, nor does social care do the best job at saying what it wants or being united in its thinking. So, with that in mind I would urge my health colleagues to see that the commonality that unites us is the care and compassion for people that we all share.
As a starter for 10 I’d ask my health colleagues within the faculty to have a read of Michael Rigby’s short paper on social care informatics. It goes a long way to forming an understanding of where social care is coming from.
Digitising health continues to be a prime focus across the UK. In regards to this, how do you see clinical informatics developing as a profession?
As we live increasingly digitalised lives, the notion of digitising isn’t going to go away, so it is then about doing it for the right reasons.
The significance of clinical informatics is that digitising health can be done through the lens of the people we care for, rather than in a ‘carte blanche’ or one size fits all manner. We retain a unique position as clinicians where we see digital through a care lens rather than care through a digital lens.
If we retain this grounding then the process of digitising health and care records, providing person and family access, the ethics of different types of digital technology and how big data and primary and secondary data is used is safeguarded by our unique ethos.
With this in mind our voice will be even more important to ensure that digitising is done in way that remains person-centred.
What is your main passion within clinical informatics and why?
I am motivated by the fact that social care has yet to grasp informatics and as such we have an opportunity to shape it from infancy. It is clear to me that it is highly valuable that social care raises the profile of informatics so that people receive the best care, consistently.
Equally the social care workforce is unjustifiably much maligned and as such if informatics can be used in such a way to reduce burnout, improve staff retention and provide professionals with information to support the care they give then this is a very worthy cause in my view!
If you could give yourself some advice back when you were first embarking on your clinical informatics career, what would it be?
Don’t be put off by the fact that no one else is doing this in your profession. Just because other social workers aren’t doing this it doesn’t mean it’s a dead end for your career! Also, I would warn myself that at times it’s an unglamorous ‘slog’ to raise the profile of informatics and seeing results requires you to play the ‘long game’ sometimes. However, as a career, informatics is really interesting and incredibly varied. By sticking at it you have the opportunity to positively impact people’s lives on a big scale and this goes way beyond your job being your caseload.