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The One HealthTech Manchester Hub at the North West Skills Development Network Connect conference

Is System working, working?  This was the title of this years North West Skills Development Network conference known affectionately as Connect. 

Connect has been running for fifteen years and is the most mature of all the regional Skills Development Network (SDN) conferences taking place at the Grand hotel in Blackpool. 

The vibe at Connect is absolutely brilliant, a family and very much a Northern feel of warmth and familiarity. To me, the conference felt like seeing friends and colleagues rather than a more formal setting.

This was only added to by the inclusion of patients in the line up. Once Debbie Bywater had done her opening address as chair of the organising committee, we heard from Bella Plows a patient at Alder Hey on meaningful patient involvement, alongside her was Victoria Furfie CCIO at Alder Hey and clearly passionate about the work they do to involve their children and young people in process and Digital. 

The next talk was an eye opener for me and delivered by a very articulate speaker, Micheal Barton. Michael was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 7 and highlighted so many thought provoking and valuable lessons to the audience about what it was like to be in a workplace as someone with Autism. 

After a short break it was One Health Tech Manchester turn to be on stage. Myself and Alex Hernandez were given an opportunity to collaborate with the Shuri Network, specifically Ayesha Rahim to deliver a workshop session. We missed our co-fellows Charlotte Lewis and Nosheen Hussain this time, who couldn’t join us due to other commitments. We titled our session ‘Supporting and Empowering Women in Tech’. We wanted the session to be both informative but also interactive and we also wanted the audience to have something to take away. Ayesha framed the session by explaining the moral and business case for higher inclusion and diversity. She brought the audience back in the room with the news back in March about Frank Hester, CEO of TTP and his comments concerning Diane Abbot. Ayesha shared with us her passion of the topic and how she collaborated with Victoria Betton and Hassan Chaudhury to develop the equity charter to make a stand against bigotry and discrimination in our Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) field. Next Alex delved into the data we collected in February in preparation for our Rewired session with information from 40 respondents on career journeys, perceptions on role models and networks and advice to peers. The narrative is that more still needs to be done in the workplace to empower our female colleagues within DDAT in the NHS, and those from ethnic minorities. This led us nicely on to talk about the importance of Allyship within this space. We highlighted some of the work done by Imperial College Hospital on the Allyship continuum and how important it is to include our male colleagues in the broader conversation around women and colleagues from underrepresented groups. 

Mark Singleton CIO at Blackpool Hospital Foundation Trust, very kindly joined me for a fireside chat where we discussed the following:


  • What does the word allyship mean to you?

  • Have you ever had real scenarios where you have been able to demonstrate allyship

  • Have you ever experienced any form of marginalisation?

  • Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome?

  • What action could you suggest to other male allies around how they can practically be an ally to others


Mark was open and honest at every juncture and we discussed how brilliant it was that Mark was giving ‘permission’ to other male colleagues to have these discussions.  


It was then time to head into the interactive part of our session, as I mentioned earlier it was key to us to leave the audience with something to take away. We moved on to talk about how to create an elevator pitch. 


We firstly explained what is the idea and importance of an elevator pitch - a presentation of you, your work and your achievements. We then asked the audience to jot down their name, their role and one or two key achievements.


Following this we ran through some key tips and pointers using a 4-step framework according to the Harvard Business School[1]:


1.    Who you are

2.    What you do

3.    Why you are unique

4.    Goal for Pitch


We asked the audience to write their elevator pitch using the framework and work in pairs to give feedback and encourage partners to write their pitch.


Overwhelmingly people felt it was a difficult exercise as it’s common to find people not used to ‘shouting’ about themselves. Not an easy task to define yourself, independently of how junior or senior you may be!


Our aim was to leave the audience with a take away and we hope we achieved the goal. The session was delivered twice and the afternoon session mirrored the morning. 


I love delivering sessions, but will always admit to nerves on the day so it’s a relief for me once my contribution to the day is done and I can relax and listen to other speakers. 


The day continued with a session on digitising patient flow is the key to releasing operational capacity. It was great to understand real life applications in a hospital setting only ten miles away from where I live. 


The day ended with a look at International challenges for digital health and interestingly where the NHS is ahead, delivered by Rachel Dunscombe.


It was super convenient to be staying in the same hotel as the conference and I think that added to the relaxed nature of the event. A quick trip to our rooms to unpack and myself and Alex met to go for some sea air and a brisk walk along the promenade. Blackpool is both a wonderful but slightly sad place for me in that Blackpool used to be fabulous in the 60’s and has deteriorated in more recent years.  It’s a shame there is not more investment as it really could be an amazing town with beautiful buildings and the sea view. 


Dinner was a black tie event and everyone made an effort, there was a mix of people having a few drinks and those just enjoying the conversation. I called it a night about midnight, it was so nice to chat to people within the sector and get to know them on a personal level. 


Following breakfast on day 2, Sina Kahen delivered my favourite talk of the event; ‘AI, Healthcare, and the Pursuit of Meaning’, it was engaging, funny, intellectually stimulating, informative and I had no idea Sina had been speaking for an hour when it ended. Genuinely if you get the chance to hear him speak, do.

Another highlight for me was listening to parents of a little girl called Daisy. They explained how they have to juggle their lives around, not only the care Daisy requires, but the appointment, tracking, planning, booking and rebooking and how some simple apps could change the amount of onerous admin they have to do. I found the lack of collaboration and administrative burden they face eye opening.  CIO’s in the audience were challenged to help find solutions to this problem. 

The event was going on into the afternoon but with Friday afternoon traffic looming on the M6 and some internal meetings to attend to Alex and I left shortly after lunch. I will most definitely be back next year and I have to say its up there with one of the best events of the digital health calendar.

The work the SDN’s do is really valuable, for those that don’t know what they do I would encourage you to investigate further.

Website details can be found here:

A short synopsis: The NHS Skills Development Network operates across NHS organisations in England. Its remit is to provide the infrastructure for improving leadership and professional development skills, raising standards and sharing best practice through economy-wide learning. Predominantly for NHS Finance / Procurement / Digital staff.


For all our colleagues in the North West, see you next year!

[1] Harvard Business School. (2020). “HBS Elevator Pitch Builder”. Accessed from:

Harvard Graduate School of Education (2020). How to Give an Effective Elevator Pitch. Accessed from:


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