Tara Donnelly is Chief Digital Officer at NHSX which leads the digital transformation of the NHS and social care and exists to give patients and staff the technology they need. She leads the team focused on scaling digital health innovations to benefit citizens and staff, working with partners across health and social care.
Tara’s career has spanned a range of operational roles in hospitals across London including Director of Operations at the Whittington, Managing Director roles at University College London Hospital and Chief Executive of the West Middlesex University Hospital. Most recently she was Chief Executive of the Health Innovation Network, the academic health science network for south London.
She is President of the Health CEOs’ Club, Non-Executive Director at the Nuffield Trust and was previously Trustee on the Board of Macmillan Cancer Support for ten years.
1. Best piece of advice you’ve been given
It is always worth a cheeky ask. That is, if you believe in something and can see a route to it, but need support from someone, go ahead and try. Surprisingly often it will succeed.
2. Worst piece of advice you’ve been given
I think it would be from cynics I have encountered along the way, who’d say things were impossible, not worth trying, or even better, we tried that once (many moons ago) and it didn’t work.
3. What would you tell your younger self?
I’ve really grown up managing clinical services in hospitals and when I started my career I thought that it was my responsibility to think hard and solve problems for the teams I worked with, and I would be frustrated with myself if I couldn’t. But as I became more experienced it was a revelation to learn that these complex, wicked problems simply can’t be solved by one person in a darkened room; it is all about spending time in the hospital, listening to clinical staff, really understanding their work and testing ideas to develop a solution with multiple inputs. I was later to learn that concepts like this are key to Lean, where it is called “going to the gemba” or workplace, but that is what I would tell my younger self – step away from the inbox, hang out in theatres, clinics and wards and talk to the team to build a deeper understanding of the issues and therefore better solutions together.
4. What excites you most about the future of your industry?
The ways that digital health solutions can really transform millions of lives excites me enormously. It feels as though we are on the cusp of this technological revolution, with some brilliant examples, and making this part of mainstream medicine across the country is a challenge I find deeply inspiring.
5. Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
My mum Maggie Donnelly is pretty cool, she was quite a pioneer and among the first women to work as prison governors of men’s prisons in this country. She is passionate about human rights and seeking to resolving issues to reduce future criminal behavior rather than treating offenders brutally and was the most senior woman in the UK prison service when she retired.