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NHS CIO turned innovation leader brings wellbeing to Boots

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth November 27, 2019
Making people healthy will help both pharmaceutical retailer Boots and the NHS says Richard Corbridge

Image of a Boots pharmacy

A pharmacist can prevent an individual being put back into the system says Richard Corbridge, Director of Innovation at UK pharmacy retail chain Boots. Corbridge changed sector and job title in April 2019 having spent the bulk of his career as a CIO in the state health sector.  Health and retail are undergoing significant changes in their market dynamic and Corbridge’s role at Nottingham headquartered Boots is to bring to the fore the ideas that will retain Boots’ much loved position in the hearts and minds of shoppers, many of which involve technology.

Until stepping behind the counter at Boots, Corbridge was CIO at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust for just under two years and before that held a national role as CIO for the Health Service Executive (HSE), Ireland’s equivalent to the National Health Service in the UK.  

As an organisation, Walgreens Boots Alliance took the decision to recruit an innovation leader in both the USA and the UK. I report to the Transformation Director of Walgreens Boots Alliance and instigate change within Boots.

Boots said on hiring Corbridge that his role was to reimagine the pharmacy chain as part of a wider organisational strategy to modernise its customer proposition. The retailer has three core areas of focus: Live Well, Get Better and Look Good and Corbridge sees potential in all three and in particular the opportunity for Boots to deliver GP services, which will benefit consumers and the NHS alike.

Challenged on the widely held view that innovation cannot be the responsibility of one employee or business leader, Corbridge agrees and explains his ethos.

We are trying to push the ownership into every colleague. Boots has Yammer across the organisation and we have done a campaign asking for ‘your bright ideas’ and the business takes four ideas a month and explores them with the idea creator. If an idea has what it takes following the creation of a minimum viable product (MVP) we take it further. There is an enthusiasm in Boot to be at the front of change.

The change is also about the culture of the business as it faces the same disruptions as its peers across retail:

This programme is about the move from shop keeper to customer keeper - and it will come through in how we can help people.

Corbridge brings to Boots a heritage in galvanising teams and beginning the conversations about change.  As CIO of the HSE in Ireland he was part of the transformation of the image of the organisation, which was low amongst the Irish population, and with a joint role as Chief Executive of eHealth Ireland, a programme of bringing the clinical and technological worlds together.

Boots is a massive governance led organisation. It is in the Boots DNA to do no harm, so that ‘try and fail’ mentality of innovation is hard to achieve. But the passion that the staff has for the brand, for customers and colleagues is amazing and you see it at every level of the organisation.

It's clear there is much in common between the NHS and Boots, especially the purpose of its people.

The passion is struggling in the NHS because of the impact of austerity.

New retail relevance

In retail quarters Boots is revered for its successful loyalty card and as Corbridge has indicated, the love that shoppers impart on the 170 year old chain. But in the digital economy history and loyalty  have to be retained with new relevance and Boots is well aware of this.

A huge amount has been done to rebuild Boots in the Look Good market, there are 26 new brands available. If you visit the Covent Garden store in London you will see a store of the future. In the wellbeing sector we have been through a transformation to introduce sustainable products, we are reducing plastic and recycling a lot more.

Wellbeing is a huge opportunity for Boots. Take vitamins, people want to be fitter and healthier and we offer a wellness assessment, linked to the loyalty card, that gives customers the opportunity to monitor themselves, this puts the customer in charge.

For those already unwell, Corbridge and Boots are already using technology to increase the number of services it offers.

The UK has a capacity issue, there are not enough GPs. But there are five to 10 different on-demand GP services, but the challenge is how do you really deliver convenience?

Boots thinks it has/is the answer. Digital GPs and consultation rooms in-store and the chain has 2,465 stores.

We are partnering with LIVI an on-demand GP service that is already being used by 10 CCG health groups, it is a blend of the physical and the digital. An appointment is £20, or free if the appointment was commissioned by the NHS. In both cases the patient remains a patient of their NHS GP, the service is an additional service to aid in GP capacity and not to be considered a replacement for the NHS service.

On day one, with no marketing we had four patients use the service, so a pharmacist can prevent putting someone back into the NHS system.

As Boots moves up the value chain in terms of care services it offers to citizens there will be an increased onus on the retailer to be trusted with data and Corbridge is clear that Boots is aware of the need to maintain that trust.

Although not responsible for daily IT operations anymore, Corbridge is instrumental in helping Boots use its technology partners to deliver innovation.  Walgreens Boots Alliance is undergoing a major adoption of the Microsoft cloud tools, also announced this year, and the Redmond giant is keen to capitalise on opportunities in the health sector, which Corbridge sees as a valuable opportunity.

On the NHS

Corbridge joined the NHS in November 1998 following two and a half years with Perot Systems and has remained a health technology leader in the public sector until joining Boots this year and that passion for public healthcare is deeply rooted in the Yorkshireman. Although it has become a common myth to believe that the public sector is behind the private sector, Corbridge sees a different picture.

The connectivity within the NHS as a result of the Clinical Chief Information Officer (CCIO) being introduced alongside the CIO has become really powerful for the digital transformation of healthcare. As yet I don’t see a similar thing in retail.

Will he return to being a CIO and the NHS?


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