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Weekend events are always a tricky one, especially ones which are far away from where you live.

However when I was invited to judge at the iconic NHS Hack Day, I couldn’t turn it down.

For those who aren’t familiar with the format, a bunch of people who know a lot about the problems in health and social care (healthcare professionals, service managers, service users, carers etc.) and a bunch of people who love technology and solving wicked problems, come together for a weekend to work through some of those issues together and see how far they get.

If you’re a techie, here’s how it’s different from other hacks

- You finish at 6pm and have some lovely food and have a chat. There’s no obligation to smash on through the night.

- You don’t come in with a team. You’re there to work however the problem is best solved

- This year there was a creche so please bring your children along — we were proud to sponsor this to decrease the barriers to people attending and increase diversity.

- It’s great to bring a problem but you don’t have to. You can come and lend a hand with other people’s problem and that’s great.

If you’re from the NHS or Social Care and you have no idea what this is all about

- You bring a problem which you think should have a technology solution but you can’t find one

- You tell people about it in under a minute

- Helpful people with technology skills come and talk to you about how it might be solved

- You work on it for a couple of days and present it back to people at the end of day 2 and you aren’t quite sure how you’ve managed to do all of this in 2 days and you go back to work tired but impressed at how much you’ve managed to do.

This Hack Day was held in Cardiff on the weekend of 25/6 January and there were record numbers of

- Attendees (over 120)

- Pitches (28!)

- Presentations (17)

All of which made it hard to judge.

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There was huge diversity in the problem statements too, ranging from wanting to give trans people awaiting their first appointment at gender clinic (which can be a 2 year wait) all the information so they could be working through in the meantime to QR codes for health visitor information leaflets.

The person pitching the problem then stood by a board with a one sentence descriptor of their problem and then the magic happens. The people self-organise into groups and start working on the problem. Lego, paper prototype and smiles and frowns abound as the teams wrestle with the issues and start to come to some ideas about how to solve it.

Seeing and hearing the newly formed teams full of strangers work and laugh together was awesome in the truest sense of the word. There’s a real appetite to try and fix things for the people working in it, for the patients and their relatives. With a few notable exceptions, nobody was there to pitch their pre-formed idea. Everyone was there with their tools saying ‘how can I help’. That is something that the organisers have done so so well in cultivating and preserving.

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At the end of day 2 all the teams from one person up to about 8 presented back to us as a judging panel, from QR codes to VR headsets and from wellness apps to a goniometer replacement (I hated using goniometers — they fit in absolutely no piece of clothing ever manufactured and you end up looking like you’re a few decades late for your Maths GCSE).

All of the projects were impressive in their clarity, vision and ingenuity. I’m not going to let our judging ranking colour your view on the projects. All of the projects can be found here

It was an absolute dream to be involved in and I’ve left brimming with ideas and admiration for everyone who gave up their weekend to learn something new and meet new people and open themselves up to a new experience, it’s unlike any hack I’ve been to before and I’ll definitely attend again.

If you’re keen to see what all the fuss is about and attend the next one it’s on 6–7 June 2020 at the The Federation, Manchester.

Head of Healthcare for BJSS. Clinician, accountant and data scientist. Not always in that order. Volunteer for One HealthTech.