Former NHSX director goes global in new DIT post

Former NHSX digital development director Sam Shah is set to play a key role in advancing UK interests in healthcare technology on the global stage.
By Piers Ford
05:08 AM

The Department for International Trade (DIT) has appointed leading digital health specialist Sam Shah as global clinical and digital advisor, Healthcare UK.

Shah has been a key player in the team responsible for the development of the rapidly emerging NHS digital ecosystem. He was previously with NHS England for six years, where he was director of digital development from 2017-2019, before serving seven months in the same role at NHSX.

Alongside his role in digital innovation – he helmed the flagship 111 online programme and the migration of the NHS directory of service to the cloud, as well as pioneering natural language processing initiatives and a number of AI pilot projects.

He has also been a passionate advocate for equality, diversity and inclusivity in tech recruitment across the UK healthcare sector. In November 2019, he was ranked fourth in the #IB100, the Financial Times list of the top 100 most influential black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders in the tech sector.

Shah says he is excited to arrive at the DIT at such a key moment. Post-Brexit, with the focus on trade and international relations intensifying, health, healthcare and digital health technology are likely to be some of the most interesting areas for global collaboration, creating a great opportunity for the UK to share skills and innovations from every part of the NHS.

“These are sectors where the UK does particularly well,” he says. “We have an established health system and progressive ideas about how to improve services for patients. The technology that follows is exciting. For example, the work we have done around record sharing attracts great interest globally – not least for the range of different ways of working that have been achieved between the NHS, EMR and EHR systems and integration engines.”

Digital leadership

Shah says the NHS has also taken the lead on the development of virtual and online consultation models, patient-facing portals and the drive to self-management and self-care, consistently attracting global attention.

“It is still early days for many of these innovations, but look at the inroads we have made with trust frameworks that use technology to validate staff, and the development of AI, specifically in imaging,” he says. “These are things we have done well and made early gains in. Genomics is another example. The 100,000 Genomes Project has become a case study of international importance.”

He points to the NHS’ strong track record in developing good practice for establishing clinical audits and registries. “These are very technical but as we build and organise services, modelling and modifying care delivery, exciting digital technologies always follow – and that’s what makes this such an great time to be in health tech, with the opportunity for collaboration and working internationally.”

Shah remains committed to ensuring that equality and diversity remain high on the digital health agenda. In October 2019, he was among several commentators who took to social media to question an NHSX advertisement for the role of chief nursing information officer (CNIO) role, which appeared to exclude BAME applicants. The ad was taken down.

“Having been at NHSX during its inception, I saw the challenges facing a new organisation in a state of evolution, with lots of ground to prepare as it learns to deal with these issues,” he says. “I have always flagged up the issue of diversity and inclusivity. This has been a period of massive change, for NHSX as a start-up and for the NHS as a whole but when a job description goes so wrong, it’s clear that a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of equality.”

Shah says he will also continue to practise clinically.

“It’s not all about the technology – it’s what the technology is there to help,” he says. “If the long-term goal is to improve citizens’ wellbeing, I have to be close to them when they are receiving healthcare – to understand what will help them.

“It’s important to be involved, and remain in touch with users and other clinicians. I will continue to work in the NHS in addition to my work at the DIT. It’s unlikely I’ll be stopping that any time soon!”