Former Skyscanner CTO joins NHS Scotland to build national digital platform in ‘world first’ initiative

By Leontina Postelnicu
Edinburgh, Scotland

Former Skyscanner Chief Technology Officer Dr Alistair Hann has joined NHS Scotland to help build a national digital platform aiming to improve access to information for both citizens and health and care staff and remove interoperability barriers.
In his new role as CTO of the NHS Digital Service, based within NHS Education for Scotland, Dr Hann will work with Geoff Huggins, Director of Health and Social Care Integration at the Scottish Government, who is leading the new initiative, and Liz Elliot, former Chief Operating Officer for Health Data Research UK, the national institute for data science in health.

Between 2011 and 2017, while he worked at Skyscanner, the company reportedly grew from 60 to 800 employees – and the CTO is no stranger to digital health.
During his doctorate in biomedical engineering at the University of Oxford, Dr Hann developed alarm systems for bedside monitors that were able to give ‘earlier warning of issues and fewer false alarms’ by using data from UK and US clinical trials, and then worked for a university spinout that commercialised the research.

“I am Edinburgh-based, and was considering founding another start-up, then the opportunity came along to help build the National Digital Platform.

“That ticked my boxes of a challenging role in health technology as well as an opportunity to work on products that I could easily see people around me benefiting from,” the CTO told BJ-HC.  

Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Strategy, published in April, outlined the vision for a national digital platform that ‘enables the appropriate creation and use of information at source and facilitates the interoperability of existing and new health and care technologies’, as a report from the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee released at the beginning of the year found that a single platform was ‘the best way forward for data sharing’.

Dr Hann explained:

“Workers in the health service and social care will have better access to information that helps them do their jobs.

“Right now, that information can be split across multiple systems – which means it can take a long time to access, and sometimes in cannot be accessed at all at the point of care. The platform will enable us to make sure the right data are in the right place, at the right time.

“But it’s also about what people are able to do themselves, like order repeat prescriptions or book GP appointments. We have to think differently about how people are able to engage with the NHS and learn from what has happened in other parts of our life.”

The platform is also set to foster innovation by facilitating ‘appropriate, safe and secure access to clinical, biomedical, social care and other data about individuals for approved research in the public interest, including through managed collaborations between the public third and industry sectors, and academia’, according to the strategy. 

“Those are ultimately political and legal questions and it is important that we all maintain public trust and confidence in how data is managed and used. We will contribute to that process, but ultimately the decision will be made elsewhere," Dr Hann said. 

“Our role is to create the capability within the system to support those decisions that are made about how data can be used. That’s about not only how data is structured and managed but also about [how] we enable citizens to have input and control of their data over time.

“A goal of the platform is to put citizens in control of their data – letting them see what is there, control who has access, and see who has accessed it.”

The team, which is now actively recruiting, will focus on setting out the product roadmap for the first year and getting the organisation 'up and running' during the initial six months: 

“We are taking a different approach to many public sector technology projects and trying to deliver value early on, and repeatedly after that." 

But there are several 'good examples' that they could 'draw from', the CTO added, including Estonia, the ‘digital’ country, and Kaiser Permanente.

“Those systems increasingly take a population-based approach to healthcare, supporting people in the community, avoiding hospital admissions and focusing on wellness and benefit to the individual as it makes sensible use of resources and also improves outcomes for people.

“But the exact combination of what we are doing is a ‘world first’ and there will therefore be a lot to discover on the way.”Air Jordans