Is open source the only ethical means of delivering the Government’s vision for digital health?

12th March 2019, 6:00pm

Co>Space North, Leeds
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The Government’s vision for technology as a foundation for a new generation of digital services, has been broadly well received by the health tech community. Amongst other things, the policy paper argues for modularity in systems that limits the potential for NHS services to be locked in to contracts with IT vendors; it also makes the case for shared standards that enable interoperability between systems. But where does open source software fit into this picture, if it all? 

This timely debate responds to the Secretary of State for Health’s statement that government doesn’t have all the answers, and his assertion that its vision should be ‘the beginning of an open conversation about how we can iterate to best achieve what is needed and work with the many brilliant, forward-thinking people in the system to get it right’. 

So what is the role of open source software and open collaboration in digital innovation for health and care? To what extent could a push towards open source help the NHS manage limited resources and build and maintain public trust? How does open source support (or not) the four guiding principles set out in the vision for technology in the NHS:

  • User need
  • Privacy and security
  • Interoperability and openness
  • Inclusion?


Our speakers will reflect on the role open source software might play in designing technology safely, ethically and effectively for the values and interests of civil society; and conversely, the benefits and the consequences of the growing for profit sector developing proprietary software for use in health and care services. 

Our discussion brings together deep thinkers in the field to consider these questions and more so that we can shape our own thinking and influence others. With a strong push on digital in health and care, never has it been more important for us all to engage in critical thinking about the future we are creating for ourselves, our families, our communities and wider society.

Our speakers:

GP and open source advocate Dr Marcus Baw has argued persuasively that open source is the only ethical approach to digital health. You can read the case he makes here and this post forms the springboard for our deliberations.

A self confessed geek, Becky Wassall, community dentist and founder of Open Odonto, brings deep knowledge of the open source movement in health and a researcher’s perspective.

Matt Edgar, head of design at NHS Digital, brings a design thinking approach to this contentious topic. 

Greg Burch, Chief Clinical Information Officer for Tiny Medical Apps, a small company developing personal health records for the NHS and an advocate for patient owned data, open source software and NHS owned IP. Greg works part-time as an A&E doctor in Brighton. 

NHS website frontend developer Adam Chrimes will demonstrate the new NHS.UK frontend library, which offers open source production code for responsive websites with a consistent NHS look and feel.

Do join us for what will be a sparky deliberative and thoughtful evening’s discussion.

Co>Space North, Floor 5 - Platform, New Station Street, Leeds, LS1 4JB, U.K.


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