This week we (virtually) sat down with one of our clinical advisors, Dr Rehan Symonds, to discuss innovation during COVID; the challenges the industry is facing and the green shoots of change that are already afoot.

E: What are your thoughts on the last few tumultuous months in healthcare? 

R: “Like many NHS staff, the last year or so has been an unprecedented struggle to help maintain a functional health service while adapting to the ever changing pandemic conditions. Our colleagues, friends and families have all experienced trauma that will last over time. The best qualities have very much been on display as services pull together with grit and determination in the most difficult phase. 

“We have a mountain to climb once the worst of this is over and in some ways reflecting on some startling trends that have accelerated quickly of late seems indulgent, were it not for the fact that the ability of citizens to obtain care remotely has become a key marker of equality of access to essential services during lockdown. 

“The ability or otherwise of a citizen to be able to access services remotely, from the safety of their home, is now an essential factor to consider when directing resources. 

“It is difficult to know which individual requires what sort of support such as skills, training, technology or whether to target that at the individual or their carers. Innovate UK recently decided to support an effort to analyse the issue with findings due to be made available to NHS decision makers as soon as possible.” (1) 

E: What’s your favourite healthcare innovation and why? 

R: “Innovation in digital healthcare today appears to be rapid and my work is geared towards supporting stakeholders to maintain the “Person” as the central focal point around which product and service design, UX, policy, strategy and digital transformation evolve. It will be an ever present risk to lose sight of the Human factor as the revolution in healthcare digitisation picks up pace. 

“However my favourite invention has to be the Vaccine which, along with sanitation, clean drinking water and the randomised, controlled trial has transformed society and enabled the expectation of a long and healthy life. The combination of Human ingenuity and cooperation required to produce and distribute several vaccines to mitigate the pandemic is all you need to witness if your faith in the ability of our species to meet a difficult challenge ever wavers.”

E: What are the major challenges we face during the COVID vaccination programme? 

R: “In my clinical roles I’m aware of the logistical challenges associated with the annual, planned flu campaign, so an extra effort in the depths of Winter, during a pandemic lockdown is another marvel of ingenuity. I think everyone is doing an incredible job and it appears that any issues with logistics will be met with great energy and focus by the providers of the vaccination program. 

“Understandably, the program has been rolled out at speed and like re-engineering a plane mid-flight, we will need to be at our best to iterate at such massive scale. The ability to choose great technologies will have a huge role to play in enabling providers to vaccinate large numbers of vulnerable people in a fast and efficient manner.”

E: How do you think the technology used during COVID will impact the future of healthcare? Or embedded in general day-to-day practice? 

R: “The history so far of digital transformation in the NHS has often presented as a top-down approach which enables rapid action in extreme circumstances while losing the centrality of the individual in product and service design and delivery. 

“It will be a shame if collective ingenuity and energy is blocked from turning user-led insights into better and more sustainable solutions. I struggle to see how sustainable and effective change can result from imposition and the need for careful, research-led decisions and service design will prove to be unavoidable.”

E: By the end of 2021 what change would you like to see in healthcare? 

R: “I believe that we’re now in a race to understand and act on the factors that enable or disable citizens to engage with public services in a safe and fair way in light of the reality of a new, deadly, endemic coronavirus. 

It would be wishful thinking to believe that life will revert to a pre-pandemic norm and although we will once again joyfully squeeze into busy trains and jump up and down in muddy fields in Summer time, life will never quite be the same. 

It’s vital that we now strive to bridge the gap between communities who are excluded from the conversation around service design and develop ways of utilising the insights of all of our people in transformation processes.”


Dr Rehan Symonds has been an NHS doctor for almost 20 years and has worked in the UK and Australian health system with stints in Central London emergency medicine and rural, family medicine in Cornwall. 

In 2018 he co-founded a public sector research and insights unit to bridge the gap between communities and service design to assist decision makers during digital transformation. He can also be found in a muddy field in Somerset providing clinical care during the Glastonbury festival, when it’s not cancelled.