Why trusts should get behind NHS Hack Days and back ‘geeks who love the NHS’

NHS Hack Days demonstrate the value of a modern approach to NHS IT procurement and show the way forwards for competitive trusts.


The first ever NHS Hack Day took place in London recently. Supported by NHS Right Care and the NHS Information Centre the event brought together over 120 volunteer doctors, developers, designers and other “geeks who love the NHS” (the NHS Hack Days tag line) to work on disruptive digital health technologies that improve the NHS for patients and healthcare professionals.

There were prizes for the best works and the judges present, who included Sir Liam Donaldson, Clare Gerada, and Ben Goldacre, were impressed by the high quality of the entries. Individual projects made over the weekend included OpenBNF.org, a more accessible and useful version of the BNF (a book doctors use to look up the dose of medicine they prescibe), ChecklistHQ.com, a website for making and sharing check lists (rather than relying on solely on your memory), and NHSBugs.net, a website for collecting feedback on the NHS from healthcare professionals and patients alike.

Hack days are common in the technology industry and have recently been adopted by the Cabinet Office’s highly successful Government Digital Service who supported NHS Hack Day by sending along several of their software developers and designers.

Leading software developers present at NHS Hack Day, such as Tom Taylor who has a successful start-up www.newspaperclub.com, routinely share their “source-code” (the details of the software they write) which in addition to allowing collaboration provides a signal a strong signal of their abilities.  Like at a craft fair where a potential buyer can watch a master craftsman practising their craft and inspect the quality of their designs, NHS Hack Days offer an opportunity for NHS trusts to talent scout and recruit individual software developers, designers, and SMEs on the basis of their ability to conceptualize and solve real-world problems.

With NHS trusts under increasing pressure to raise their technology game to improve quality and reduce costs the competitive advantage of getting technology procurement right has never been greater, open source software in the NHS, NHS Hack Days, and “geeks who love the NHS”, look like they’ll be here to stay.

The event was covered in several places, including the BMJ,Radio 4 and E-health insider and has sparked fresh discussion of how to achieve better value for money in NHS IT procurement. Several teams have been approached by NHS trusts interested in developing the work produced.

The next NHS Hack Day will be in Oxford in January 2013 – see www.nhshackday.com for more details.


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