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Leading IT at Well (whilst working very hard to keep up)

I’m Claire, and I joined Well six months ago as the Head of IT.

I had been working in Pharmacy IT for a while before that. It’s both an interesting and frustrating place to work because it’s really complicated.

It’s hard to articulate why, but it’s something to do with the convoluted NHS-GP-Pharmacy business processes — if you’ve never worked in it you wouldn’t believe the amount of paper.

Add to that the complexities of medicines and drug supply, and it makes working in IT even harder.

Pharmacy IT really hasn’t really moved on much in the 10 years I have been working there: same people, same systems, same challenges.

Coming into the role I was pretty confident. As I said, I’ve been around this for a long time now. But it’s been a real rollercoaster: we are moving fast and it’s hard to keep up.

There’s new people to work with who bring new perspectives — behavioural scientists, digital designers, strategy agencies, and software developers using the latest technology. I don’t even understand what they all do, but they are challenging everything.

Human nature is to be suspicious of things we don’t understand and I have definitely been through this, but you choose your reaction and I’ve chosen to get onboard and learn.

Patients need pharmacy to change

Pharmacy IT needs to change. It has to change because people need medication when they are ill — not 9 days later when they finally manage to get a GP appointment. Parents need to be able to help their children feel better when they are in pain. People need to be able to get their life changing medication when they need it.

I am a mum of three and have a long term condition myself so I get it, as will everyone else who regularly interacts with the NHS.

Pharmacy can play a bigger role in the NHS, helping to face up to the current challenges in our healthcare system — that’s obvious to everyone I think.

The reality of legacy systems

I joined Well because I think this young, ambitious business can make a difference. It’s not going to be easy: we will need to challenge some current ways of working and maybe even regulations. But other industries have done this and they are better for customers as a result.

We’ve got a lot of legacy systems and it is going to be really hard to change them quickly enough to keep up. We need to work hard to make sure they don’t become a constraint on what we’re trying to do.

All the cool, new, super-successful companies — Uber, Facebook, Amazon, Deliveroo et al, aren’t underpinned by a fragile, legacy system which was installed in the 1980s and hardly anyone understands.

They don’t all store their data in distributed individual databases that you can’t get data out of. They designed their systems to do the stuff that modern technologies need. We’ve got lots to do.

1_HUl7-J5BcyTIyQoYe8mdeQ Many of our systems are very old

I’m confident we can do this as we have the right people, the right environment and we are focused around a common purpose.

But I think the most important thing is to keep the right attitude — this is not optional. We need to do this because patients need their medication and we have to find a way to make this better, in the context of a healthcare system increasingly under pressure. And I think we will.

Claire O’Connell
Head of IT

Leading IT at Well (whilst working very hard to keep up)
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