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Meet... Helen Northmore, Programme Delivery Manager at Digital Health Ecosystem Wales

One cold autumn evening in Cardiff, we were supposed to meet with a few new hub peeps and catch up on world domination plans. Why a Q&A? Two words: roller derby. Okay, it's more than that, so check out the interview below :)

You've had quite the professional trajectory -- please give us some insights into what are you doing and how did you get here. 

I graduated with a degree in Economics, went into banking and didn’t like it, fell into politics and lobbying before spending the last 12 years in stakeholder engagement, business development and project management. I worked in energy efficiency, housing and employability, all of which impact your health without actually being part of the health sector. I had just spent two years going through a tough procurement process for a big UK Government contract successfully but wanted to go do something that was more inspirational and practical – that’s when the opportunity to work at the Life Sciences Hub Wales came up, running the Digital Health Ecosystem Wales project.

My job is to try and make it easier for digital technology to be adopted within the NHS and social care through bringing people together through events and providing information, support and guidance for innovative projects from industry, academia or clinicians. This means I run events, I’m setting up a website with lots of resources and spend most of my time connecting people – I get to go out and see all the new ideas and ask ‘how can I help?’

Talk to us about some of the projects you were/ are involved in the healthtech space. Anything close to your heart?

At the moment I’m excited about a project the Ecosystem is supporting to assess the impact of RFID tracking assets such as wheelchairs and hospital beds. It’s really inspiring to see how the Health Board we are working with have gone from ‘lets see how much time is spent on tracking down wheelchairs’ to ‘how can we use this data to improve and redesign services’. I’m also helping coordinate a bid for funding to create an anonymised store of all digital images in Wales which can then be used for research by clinicians and businesses to develop new services. Plus I am planning out our themes for 2019 – cross-border interoperability, the National Data Resource for Wales, Cybersecurity and the next wave of APIs we will be releasing as part of the Ecosystem.

Work-life balance can be tricky for any job - what has it been like for you?

I work in a great team here, and we support each other to make sure work-life balances are maintained. Having a strong culture to make sure people go home and switch off is really important and it’s one of the things I like about working in the Life Sciences Hub. The temptation to keep saying ‘yes’ to all the exciting things going on is really high, but I have learned how to put in place boundaries and be realistic about what I can achieve. I have my own rules about not reading emails and sticking to fairly set hours to keep the mind focussed and I spend time making sure I prioritise things – I learned a long time ago that you can never do everything on your to-do list, so focus on what’s both important and urgent!

Any (out of the box hobbies) that keep you balanced? Be honest now, inside sources have told us you're doing some pretty rad stuff.

One of the reasons I make sure I get out of the office is that I am very involved in roller derby – I started as a player back in 2011, playing for the Cardiff Roller Collective and then the Swansea City Slayers. For those who don’t know what roller derby is, it’s a full contact female-led sport played on roller skates. I moved on from playing a few years ago, helping set up the first Welsh national roller derby team competing in the World Cup and love refereeing games as I still get to skate but I also get to shout at people for doing naughty things.I also found I have a talent for providing commentary and analysis of games for either the audience at a game, or for the audience at home via live streaming. I’m very lucky in that I get to travel to tournaments across Europe and the USA to talk about roller derby – I like to think of myself as the Gary Neville of roller derby.

Cool plans on the horizon?

I am looking forward to a calmer December to start pulling together the new DHEW website – I want to build the first stop shop for lots of information for developers, entrepreneurs and clinicians to help them develop new ideas and innovation. I’m also keen to start planning for promoting the Ecosystem and our network and resources to the digital health sector outside of Wales. I also can’t wait to start seeing the results of the projects that have just started – the Ecosystem only started in March so I’m looking forward to our first birthday and showing the impact we’ve had. Plus I am planning roller derby trips to Dallas, Berlin and Helsinki for the first half of 2019.

Some words of wisdom for a younger self.

Don’t waste time comparing yourself to other people and don’t worry so much about other people’s careers and achievements, keep focused on what makes you happy and feel like you’ve made a difference. It’s up to you to make the life you want, don’t wait for other people to show you how to do it.


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