The UK Health Camp Unconference 2022

Public Digital's Connie van Zanten at Health Camp 2022. Image: Paul Clarke
Public Digital's Connie van Zanten at Health Camp 2022. Image: Paul Clarke

On 15th October, Public Digital attended the 2022 UK Health Camp unconference in London. The free event was open to anyone interested in digital, design and technology for health and care, and aimed to provide a multidisciplinary space for sharing ideas and inspiring change. Much of the work we do at Public Digital focuses on digital within health and care services - from working with NHS Trust boards to NHS England to the NHS Race and Health Observatory - and members of our team were delighted to attend.

In the spirit of an improvised ‘unconference’, all attendees were invited to propose topics for discussion, and these pitches were used to devise a spontaneous agenda for the day. Sessions were designed above all to be participatory and encourage discussion. All four of Public Digital’s attendees pitched and delivered sessions on their areas of expertise and interest, ranging from what should be in the digital health manifesto of the political opposition, to how to run trauma-informed user research. We were deeply impressed by the breadth of topics covered over the course of the day.

Improvised timetable
The unconference improvised timetable. Image: Paul Clarke

Sessions explored recent successes in healthcare and how they came about, such as the development of a digital tool for cancer clinicians to find clinical trials, digital systems to track the treatment of cancer patients, and improvements in clinical recruitment and onboarding. Discussion showed that these breakthroughs and many others in digital healthcare were all made possible through common patterns in working: building multidisciplinary teams, learning from getting it wrong, working in the open, and allowing change to be clinically led.

While we celebrated these achievements, the event also drew attention to what more is still to be done. We discussed the future of digital in healthcare, exploring topics like digital inequalities and exclusion, and what needs to change in the NHS. Sessions raised questions about the possibility of using open source in the NHS, and how we can train clinicians to work effectively with tech teams. A session on senior health leadership in digital run by Public Digital’s Cate McLaurin identified the need for NHS staff with digital skills, and emphasised the necessity of a wider strategy which recognises digital change as social change in order to achieve this.

There was also a focus on the role of collaboration, and the importance of working as a community in challenging times. One of the final sessions, run by Public Digital director Matt Harrington, focussed on which perspectives were missing from Health Camp 2022 and how to ensure relevant members of the health and care community attend next year.

Health Camp 2022
Health Camp 2022 attendees. Image: Paul Clarke

Members of our team share their reflections on the day below:

“There is so much to do in digital health and care. That can sometimes be overwhelming. As a product person I often worried if I was solving the right problem and having the biggest impact. But at Health Camp it was amazing to hear about how much has been done - it was lovely to get out of my bubble and hear success stories.”

“Sometimes being a product person working in digital health and care can feel lonely. Sector specific challenges, language and expectation made me question my decisions numerous times. But HealthCamp was a reminder that you don’t need to feel lonely. It was lovely to meet up with a community like that in person for the first time in a number of years: they are an amazing bunch. One week after the event, I’m feeling even more positive than I was when I left.”

Matt Harrington, Director

Chris Fleming unconference
Public Digital's Chris Fleming delivers a session to the unconference. Image: Paul Clarke

“It was really inspiring to meet so many people from across the sector, including senior clinicians, all focussed on using digital as an enabler for improvement to patient and staff experiences.

“I pitched a session for myself and also one on behalf of someone else who was too nervous to pitch (pitching is really daunting!) both of which were really thought provoking. Mine was on what are the three things you'd want to say to a senior leader if you met them in a lift - what do you want them to know/understand about digital. The other was on how we might create constructive dialogue about improvements to healthcare instead of frustrated complaints and conflict: how to change the dynamic.”

Cate McLaurin, Director

“Health Camp is a properly unique event. I've never attended anything that has attracted such a talented mix of people in the health and care space - from clinicians, to policy makers, to people in the centre to those on the outside working with the NHS. It was amazing to discover all of these people that are out there, working towards the same goals. The other thing that makes it so worthwhile is how open and welcoming the atmosphere is - everyone was there to share and learn, and the topics we covered over the course of the day were incredibly varied. It was really motivating and exciting.

“I pitched a session on a topic that's been really important to my work recently. I was interested in crowdsourcing people's ideas and experiences of how to prepare and run user research with people who have gone through a traumatic experience, when the research is about that experience. It was really useful to share what I've learnt, and to learn from how other people from a really wide range of disciplines have approached this kind of work, and great to talk about something so practically applicable.”

Connie van Zanten, Principal Consultant

Above all, we were struck by how hard-working and creatively minded the community of digital healthcare is, and we left the 2022 unconference feeling very lucky to be part of it. 

Thank you UK Health Camp for hosting us!

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