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HC2012, London, UK – Conference Report

By: Peter Murray, Geneva

HC2012 was the 29th annual Health Informatics Congress, and the latest iteration, or incarnation, of the UK health informatics community's long-running event. This year, it was held at the Business Design Centre, London, on 2–3 May 2012, and organised by the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Guardian News & Media (Opens external link in new window The last time that I attended an HC event was about 5 years ago, when it was still being held in Harrogate, England, and was a much larger event, and so it is interesting to see the differences in content and style. One major difference from previous years was that the whole event (conference and exhibition) was free to attend.
Compressed into two days, and with a much smaller exhibition, five parallel streams, linked by cross-stream plenary sessions, also included the annual conferences of a number of organisations, including the ASSIST (Association for Informatics Professionals in Health and Social Care) one-day national conference (Opens external link in new window and the IHRIM (Institute of Health Records and Information Management Opens external link in new window conference. As noted by others reflecting on the event, HC2012 covered a wide range of topics from national policy around the use of information, and technologies, in healthcare in the UK, to clinical engagement in the future implementation of policy (eg. [5]).
Several plenary speakers, including Lord Howe, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, Jim Easton, NHS Director for Improvement and Efficiency, Mike Farrar, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, and Tim Straughan, Chief Executive of the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care, provided overlapping views on the current status of policy, and expected future directions.
Both Easton, in a 'personal view' on what might be in included, and Howe as the Minister for Health, promised that the long-awaited new NHS Information Strategy for England will be published this month. Easton said the strategy would aim to raise the profile of information and IT in the NHS, with IT moving from being a “back-room service to a critical front-room service” (6), with effective information flow necessary to the move to integrate care, and recognition that transaction of information is part of care. He also noted that while national standards are needed, local innovation in service delivery is also vital. In similar tone, Lord Howe, the Minister for Health (England) noted that a major lesson from the National Programme (NPfIT) was that a top-down doesn't work, and that the NHS must meet local user needs. He went on to note that imposing national systems that could not adapt to local circumstances both shackled services with rigid and expensive contracts, and forced people to fit to the needs of systems; this meant that IT became the enemy, innovation was stifled, enthusiasm sapped, and real progress massively delayed. He noted some benefits of the NPfIT that would be retained, but that there is a need to shift power from the centre to the NHS frontline, with clinicians in the lead, supported by national systems when there is a clear need for them.
In other sessions, some interesting and useful overviews were provided of how other countries (notably Australia, China, France and New Zealand) are addressing the development of ehealth, telehealth, and the increasing use of information and communications technologies to support and deliver healthcare services. A range of conference reports and overviews are available that, read together, give a good overview of the content of the event (eg [1, 2, 3 5). In addition, Jones (4) provides a valuable serial aggregation of tweets from and about HC2012 that provides further insight into the issues discussed and the range of opinions and perceptions of participants.


  1. Guardian (2012, May 02) Today in healthcare: 2 May. The Guardian Healthcare Network. Available online at Opens external link in new window
  2. HealthTech Wire (2012a, May 02) HC2012 / Day 1: Does telehealth work? Available online at Opens external link in new window
  3. HealthTech Wire (2012b, May 03) HC2012 / Day 2: „Its worth sticking your neck out sometimes because the results can be brilliant“. Available online at Opens external link in new window
  4. Jones, C (2012, May 07) #HC2012 Grabchat of Health Informatics Congress 2–3rd May 2012. Blog post on ClaireOT's Blog. Available online at Opens external link in new window–3rd-may-2012/
  5. Kumar, R (2012, May 07) Reflections from HC2012. Blog post. Available online at Opens external link in new window
  6. Thorne, C (2012, May 03) IT 'to move out of back office' – Easton. E-Health Insider. Available online at Opens external link in new window