First radiographer joins NHS digital fellowship scheme

The Topol fellowship funding will support Martin Sykes’ work in cancer care

Published: 22 April 2021 Service Development

Martin Sykes , a therapeutic radiographer at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, has become the first radiographer to win a Topol Digital Fellowship, which he started in February.

The scheme provides health professionals with time, support and training to lead digital health transformations and innovations in their organisations. It was set up in response to the independent review led by Dr Eric Topol and his 2019 report, Preparing the Healthcare Workforce to Deliver the Digital Future.

The fellowship means that NHS Health Education England will fund two days a week of Martin’s time for a year.

Martin’s project addresses the lack of communication between, and follow-up opportunities for, patients and their healthcare professionals. For example, it will enable patients receiving radiotherapy to contact their hospital department if they have any concerns rather than waiting until the next appointment. Martin says: ‘The intention isn’t to replace face-to-face consultation with doctors and healthcare professionals, it’s to supplement that – so it’ll give patients effectively 24/7 access to the service.

‘If patients have any concern or if they start to develop symptoms, they don’t need to wait till the next appointment to ask that question. They can put a note or question on the online board to say, “I’m starting to get this, do I need to worry?”’

The new digital communication route also addresses a vital gap in the cancer service because once a patient has received treatment, they go back to the referring service.

‘From a radiotherapy service point of view, we don’t find out what happened to the patient, we don’t get to know what their outcomes were, so this will give us that knowledge,’ Martin explains.

‘It will enable radiotherapy services to focus on where our improvement needs are, rather than effectively taking a “shot in the dark” at where we think we can improve this treatment by doing X, Y and Z.

‘We can look at where patient outcomes aren’t so great and see where we can focus our patient improvement projects.’

Martin’s idea was inspired by his background in health informatics, in which he gained a masters degree from the University of Sheffield.

‘The point of my project is to get a template together so that whenever a service wants to go digital, it has a template of the things that it has to include in its digital service. That way the patients get out of it what they want and each healthcare professional on a patient’s pathway gets what they need.’

‘Our trust has bought into a service called Patient Knows Best, which is an online patient portal. Our neighbouring trusts have bought into it as well. I’m trying to look at this from a network point of view, across the whole of the Humber and Yorkshire coast network, so all cancer patients that are diagnosed in this area get an equitable digital service.’

A team of clinical nurse specialists working within the Macmillan Living With and Beyond Cancer Team will respond to the questions from patients or forward those that need a specialist response to the appropriate professional.

Martin adds: ‘We hope we’ll gain more effective face-to-face reviews so that when the patient comes in, we will know before they walk through the door what’s concerning them.

‘It will mean the healthcare professional looking at the patient can focus straight away on the
problem, rather than having to do that digging to start with.’

Follow Martin’s journey on his blog, Digital Oncology.