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James Hawkins: A Career Championing Digital Health and Allyship


James Hawkins
Chief Digital and Information Officer
York and Scarborough NHS Trust

by Bernie Clarke

22 March 2024

Early Career and Interest in Technology


James Hawkins initially trained as an electrical and electronic engineer, sponsored through university by British Gas Scotland. He then joined their graduate management scheme, gaining broad business exposure across departments. As he recounts, "I spent a small amount of time in each department getting to understand the full range of business functions."

His interest in technology was sparked when he later joined British Gas' Communications and Instrumentation team: "I was involved in establishing the right computer systems and data networks in the first sort of computer systems that were being introduced to British Gas Scotland." This early experience with IT systems and infrastructure paved the way for his lengthy career at the intersection of healthcare and technology.


Later Transition into Healthcare IT Leadership


After working on several major infrastructure projects like the London congestion charge programme, James was invited to join the establishing National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS. As he describes, "The partner at Deloitte became the national CIO for the NHS and established the national programme for IT. I took the decision to follow him as part of the establishment of the national programme."

This launched over a decade of deep involvement in major national healthcare IT systems. He had responsibility for delivery of multiple critical programmes like the personal demographic service, NHS mail and the initial summary care record. Reflecting on this time, he shares: "I ended up, over the years, having responsibility for a wide range portfolio for the national programme for IT."

Eventually ascending into senior executive roles like Director of Programmes and Technical Director at NHS Digital’s predecessors, James accumulated rich experience bringing complex health IT programmes to fruition nationally over an impactful career span.


The Transformative Value of Allyship


When asked what allyship means to him, James emphasises it is about "supporting groups who don't always have a voice or equal say." He believes all organisations are on a journey towards “making sure that everyone is treated equally."

He provides a moving case study from his time at NHS Digital, when he participated in a “reciprocal mentoring arrangement” with an employee named Andy who had a degenerative sight condition. By listening and learning about Andy’s needs, James helped advocate for equipment accommodations that allowed him to work more easily despite declining eyesight. As he reflects, this experience “changed not just me, but also the organisation” and conversations about accessibility and inclusion more broadly.

The example sticks with him still today in assessing accessibility gaps in his current organisation and the assistive value of things like noise-cancelling headphones. As James states, “It’s an eye opener. How far off we probably are.” Moments like these continue to shape his thinking around allyship and workplace equity.


Guidance to Aspiring Allies


For those looking to become better allies, James stresses practical steps like: “Go and speak to your networks. Understand what they see as the barriers or issues that they’re dealing with...and try and champion what they are trying to achieve.”

He specifically advocates for participating in reverse mentoring relationships, noting it was one of “the most powerful things I’ve done in my career.” By proactively listening to marginalised groups, allies can better understand needed areas of support.


Bringing Allyship into His Current CIO Role


As James has moved into his current CIO role at York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, he recognises allyship is still an area requiring growth across the organisation. When networks were launched, accessibility oversights resulted in avoidable exclusion right from the start.

Nonetheless, James draws on his career-long exposure to bring fresh perspective. As he observes, “I realise the wealth of skills I brought to this trust” thanks to his national experience championing things like neurodiversity and workplace adjustments. Though he recognises major allyship strides are still required locally, his own developed understanding in this area is proving valuable in assessing and elevating inclusion.

Through discussions like his rich perspective shared here on allyship, James continues working to transfer knowledge that supports creating more equitable, accessible healthcare technology locally today.

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