WoW Woman in Health Tech | Tara Donnelly, Chief Executive of the Health Innovation Network

Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic

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Tara Donnelly is Chief Executive of the Health Innovation Network, which exists to speed up the best in health and care across south London as its academic health science network, or AHSN. The clinical areas of focus relate to population health and ill health prevention, including diabetes, stroke prevention, healthy ageing and movement as medicine for MSK conditions. Innovation areas include promoting digital health solutions across the capital through the Digital Health London accelerator run together with MedCity and the two other London AHSNs, UCLPartners and Imperial College Health Partners. Tara is an improvement enthusiast with an extensive background in leadership roles within the NHS and third sector. She has spent the past 17 years at board level including at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, as a non-executive director at Macmillan Cancer Support - the leading UK charity for people living with cancer - as Chief Executive at the West Middlesex University Hospital and as Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Operations at the Whittington Hospital. Her first role in the NHS was as a Ward Housekeeper when she was 18. She is a Non-Executive Director at the Nuffield Trust and current President of the Health CEOs’ Club.

Tara, how did you get into healthcare industry? Tell us a bit more about your background and your projects so far.

I worked in a hospital during my year off, and just loved it. Thirty years on I still do, most days.

What does your current job role entail?

I’m lucky enough to run a brilliant organisation called Health Innovation Network. We work across south London to speed up the adoption of innovations with the strongest evidence base. We are part of the NHS and work with NHS colleagues in all sectors, as well as social care, industry large and small and

We also work closely with the other 14 Academic Health Science Networks covering England to share and scale good ideas, and particularly closely with the two London AHSNs and MedCity as we set up Digital Health.London together. More on this later.

Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?

Healthcare is the most fascinating industry, and also highly challenging in lots of ways!

What projects are you working on at the moment?

We run a digital health Accelerator for London and are currently interviewing and selecting the best digital ideas to join the next cohort of the programmes, with our colleagues across the capital and beyond, as this year the Accelerator is expanding to Manchester, South West England, West Midlands and Kent, Surrey and Sussex. The brilliance of many of the ideas makes this stage great fun, if busy.

We are also giving thought to how digital and wearables can help the Grand Challenge of Ageing healthily.

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What are your biggest achievements to date?

There are a number of things I’m proud of, such as creating two of the best birth centres in the capital, but it’s hard to beat the feeling you get when one of your team, or someone you mentor, achieves great things themselves.

What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you? What are the challenges of being a woman in health tech and healthcare?

In contrast to tech, Healthcare is hugely female dominated, women represent 75% of the workforce, in my own organisation its 80% and the Exec Team is all women. I’ve found the NHS a fantastic place to build a career as a women because I’ve been so supported each time I’ve needed it, especially being able to work part time at a senior level after having kids. I did one of the most operationally demanding jobs - Director of Operations for a London Hospital - on a part time basis. My amazing deputy also worked part time and is now CEO at the Royal Free Hampstead. So I’d like to thank Sir David Sloman and Sir Robert Naylor for being brave and supporting me. I believe that when you offer people the flexibility they need at the critical moment, you get it back in spades. I’m now on my second CEO job; I think there are lessons there for those in the tech industry when they wonder why they struggle to get senior women.

In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the health tech and healthcare industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?

I’m hoping that the next five years are when we see digital health becoming mainstream, particularly across all of the Long Term Conditions, which is 70% of the NHS’s work as well as offering many more options across mental health, primary, outpatient and maternity care. We should see more real world applications of AI, voice and VR too, making a difference to patients and freeing up clinical time.

Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech and healthcare?

Three is cruel when there are so many! Jacqueline de Rojas, President of Tech UK and Juliet Bauer, Chief Digital Officer NHS England are legends. Anna King, Commercial Director at Health Innovation Network who had the idea in the first place of a digital health accelerator and then made it happen, on behalf of all the great women who run the accelerator, and work as navigators or in the digital health companies we support.

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