Major boost to Wales’ healthcare workforce development and research

WIDI is a joint initiative between the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD), the NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) and the University of South Wales (USW), which has recently joined the partnership. Dec 2020

A MAJOR boost to Wales’ digital health information and research capacity will be achieved through the expansion of the Wales Institute of Digital Information (WIDI).

WIDI is a joint initiative between the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD), the NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) and the University of South Wales (USW), which has recently joined the partnership.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the three organisations during an online event held on 9 December which reinforced WIDI’s aim to enhance digital workforce development and research in health and care. Together, the three organisations will increase the digital skills and competence of the healthcare workforce and will seek to enable digital transformation and usage through research, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, big data, data science, Internet of Thing (IoT), and medical imaging.

The creation of WIDI in 2017 established a strategic partnership between NWIS and UWTSD which included the relocation of NWIS’s South West Wales base to the University’s SA1 Swansea Waterfront development. The move signalled a new working relationship between the organisations which has led to the development of a number of initiatives, including the development of digital degree apprenticeships, linked to health data management, and which has facilitated NWIS’s work in delivering the national information and technology needed for modern patient care and over seventy digital services to users across NHS Wales and to other parts of the United Kingdom. Now, USW, which announced a strategic alliance with UWTSD last summer, joins the partnership increasing WIDI’s capacity and capability to create a digitally confident and competent population in Wales.

Helen Thomas, interim Director of NWIS said: “The signing of the Wales Institute of Digital Information (WIDI) Memorandum of Understanding today, between the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the University of South Wales and NWIS, is another great step along our journey linking NWIS & academia. The current partnership has seen great opportunities for our staff with the Health Informatics educational offering and now moving into the area of research.

“The opportunities to develop even closer working relationships with the academic institutions through WIDI will enable us to become a world leading partnership in public sector digital healthcare. This will offer substantial staff development for everyone working in digital healthcare as well as giving us as an organisation the benefits of having access to experts in research and innovation both here in Wales and on the global stage.

“As we move into a new era with the establishing of ‘Digital Health and Care Wales’ in April 2021, I am confident that the WIDI alliance will move from strength to strength in its evolution and look forward to expanding our collaboration with our colleagues at the two universities with taking forward a digital health agenda”.

WIDI has already established a significant network of contacts which includes health and social care providers as well as blue light and third sector organisations. Through WIDI, the NHS Informatics Service has access to the talent of students and graduates by providing part-time employment opportunities, work placements and internships, as well as enabling the professional development of staff within NWIS, many of whom are undertaking doctoral studies.

During the event Professor Wendy Dearing, Head of the Institute of Management and Health at UWTSD and director of WIDI and Professor Ian Wells, also a director of WIDI, who were both instrumental in the establishment of WIDI, provided an outline of current projects including the development of a new Master’s programme in Research. In addition, Helen Thomas and Andrew Griffiths, Chair and CEO of the Federation for Informatics Professionals in health and care (FEDIP) and former Chief Information Officer of NWIS, were named Professors of Practice at UWTSD in recognition of their professional distinction and expertise in the field of health informatics.

Professor Medwin Hughes, Vice-Chancellor of UWTSD, commented: “I’m delighted to sign a Memorandum of Agreement to enhance WIDI’s current offer and that Helen Thomas and Andrew Griffiths will assume the roles of Professors of Practice. Our students will benefit greatly from their expertise and experience to develop the higher levels skills needed to respond to the technological disruption which is taking place all around them”.

“The establishment of WIDI is an example of the way in which UWTSD is redefining the University experience for students, staff and our partners. Together we aim to produce a generation of digital transformers, entrepreneurs and leaders for the healthcare sector in Wales. It has never been more pressing for the healthcare sector to harness cutting-edge technology to help solve real-world problems.

“The development of such strategic partnerships is a part of the University’s transformation agenda that aims to improve access to higher education and skills development that is relevant to local communities and employers, enhances graduate employability, and enables the University to fulfil its potential of contributing to the economic regeneration of Wales, particularly as we emerge from this pandemic."

Professor Julie Lydon, OBE, Vice-Chancellor of USW, added: “The University of South Wales is delighted to be joining this exciting and innovative partnership, and to add even greater expertise to the WIDI initiative.

“As an institution, USW has a wide range of knowledge in a number of areas relevant to the venture, including a detailed focus on Data Science, and how Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things will impact on the world around us.  

“It is also gratifying to see how this project will give USW students a chance to be involved in developments, and to get first-hand experience of what will be expected of them once they graduate and enter the world of work.

“Across USW, our primary objective is to give those who study with us an understanding of their chosen future role, and how they can develop the skills, through us, to build a successful career in the sector in which they choose to work. This will fit in perfectly with the aspiration.

“It is also a very welcome example of the strategic alliance between USW and UWTSD, agreed earlier this year, which cemented a closer working partnership between the universities.

“This partnership is an excellent example of how closer working between our two universities can benefit the partners we work with, the students who study at the institutions, and the wider South Wales community.”

Professor Andrew Ware

Professor Andrew Ware, Professor of Computing at USW, has become Director of Research for WIDI, a role which will principally be spearheading the development of its research agenda in terms of the use of Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, and other technologies that have for potential for deployment within the NHS.

Andrew's research interests centre on deploying intelligent computer systems - Artificial Intelligence and Data Science-oriented solutions - to help solve real-world problems. 

He is currently working on AI-related projects with several industrial and commercial partners, including Tata Steel, Wye Education and Auora Int Consulting.  Moreover, Andrew has successfully supervised 40 PhD students and has been an active participant in many international research projects. He is a Regional Director of Techno Camps, an innovative and ambitious project that seeks to engage young people with computing and its cognate subjects.