Described as a “trailblazer” in her nomination, Sarah Thompson was one of the first chief clinical information officers (CCIOs) in the NHS with a pharmacy background. In her role, she has led digital transformation projects that have had a significant impact on patient safety and access to health information.
Back in 2011, Thompson’s first step into digital pharmacy was a secondment to lead on the clinical aspects of implementing an electronic prescribing system at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust. A decade later, that system has now been used to administer 34 million doses of medicine.
But she has always kept her feet on the ground. “I’ve tried to keep a hybrid of clinical practice and my digital role because I think that’s the only way that you can really understand these systems, how people are using them, the risks they present and solve, and the opportunities for improvement. I want to keep that perspective of working as a clinical pharmacist and what these systems do to either improve or create frustration in the day-to-day job,” says Thompson.
In 2022, Thompson moved to become CCIO at Wirral University Teaching Hospital, but her ambitions do not stop there. She’s soon to start studying for an independent prescribing qualification and one day hopes to be a consultant pharmacist: “I haven’t yet found evidence of a consultant pharmacist operating in the digital world and I definitely have that ambition.”
The digital side of the NHS can be male-dominated, but Thompson sees her job as being more about people and ‘user-centred design’. She says: “This is all about the people and the safety rather than the technology. It’s about how you approach it, how you engage with people.”
This means listening to clinicians express frustrations with technology during ward rounds. For example, after complaints from staff in Stockport about not having a single electronic patient record and having to log in and out of multiple systems, Thompson set to work.
“With our development team, we built a portal that allowed you to search for your patient once, log in and pop into the different systems from that portal. It sounds so simple, but the reaction we had to it was amazing, seeing the excitement in the staff once they could see how it was going to make them more efficient and safer.” It was quite a simple system to design but, seeing the impact, “I’m really proud of that”, she adds.
Yet Thompson is also candid in saying that it is the times when things have not gone well that are also part of the learning process. She was part of an electronic patient record programme that, after three years of work, was terminated. “It involved a huge staffing restructure and redundancies, and ultimately a system was bought that wasn’t right for us. And we had to make that really hard decision, but the amount we learnt from it was huge.”
That experience made her a better manager, says Thompson, because there was so much heartache and emotion involved.
It is her “eye for detail and determination to deliver to high standards” that led to her nomination for Women to Watch 2022, but also her commitment in transferring her knowledge and skill set to those that follow, making a digital pharmacy career an attractive choice. “We’ve got work to do on diversity,” she says and has worked with the Shuri Network – the first NHS and care network of women from minority ethnic groups in digital health – to support their shadowing scheme and providing opportunities for mentorship.
“A CCIO is quite a new concept in the UK and it came from a recommendation following a review into the NHS. Historically, it’s been medics and generally a consultant-level post. There is a real acceptance for nurses being in these posts, but I’m really keen to help promote and mentor people into pharmacy CCIO posts. There’s a growing community of digital pharmacists and I’m really keen for that to be a valid career pathway.”
“An incredible commitment to the field of digital transformation”
“She is a pioneer and a role model to other pharmacy professionals who want to follow a similar pathway”
“An excellent nomination, leading in an emerging but pivotal area of practice”
Meet the rest of The Pharmaceutical Journal’s Women to Watch 2022 here