Laura Rooney is Director of Strategy at Health Innovation Manchester, an organisation with the aim of discovering, developing and deploying new healthcare innovations at pace and scale across Greater Manchester.  

We worked with Laura on a behaviour change campaign to support the roll out of virtual ward capacity, and on the NHS Innovation Collaborative for Digital Health. We were very excited to speak to her about what the experience had taught her about digital inclusion, and how to take patients and clinicians on the journey to a new model of care.  

Tell us a bit about your role, what you care about and what you’re working on 

As Director of Strategy, I oversee Health Innovation Manchester’s strategic priorities across the research and innovation portfolio. I’m involved in discovering, developing and deploying new models of care in Greater Manchester, for the benefit of citizens and the NHS.  

Health Innovation Manchester leads on digital transformation for Greater Manchester Integrated Care Partnership so much of my work involves developing digitally enabled services. My background is in strategic communications and I’m not a technologist – but I do really care about digital inclusion and making sure new digital services work for the people who use them. Having a good understanding of people, listening to their needs, concerns and aspirations, is so important in getting digital services right.  


There is increasing awareness of the importance of focusing on user needs and on the outcomes that NHS services create. How are you seeing that play out in your work? 

The NHS has always paid attention to the views and experiences of patients but in a very traditional way through consultation. It’s now trying to build on that by applying the user experience approach used in the technology industry.  

We bring together the views of patients with their lived experiences and customer journey to get a clearer picture of their overall needs. We take a design-led approach and apply digital transformation principles to review and improve new models of care.  

In most instances, this has revealed issues with the original hypothesis of projects. With virtual wards, for example, there was an assumption that the new equipment would work seamlessly in people’s homes. It didn’t account for people moving away from monitors, leaving equipment in other rooms and a host of other issues that are present when you put people and technology together.  

An inclusive digital transformation approach grounds the art of the possible in the real world, creating much more equity of access for everyone.  


How do you balance focusing on users’ needs with other factors such as costs, technical feasibility, and organisational/national priorities? 

The truth is that this is not easily balanced. There is no particular playbook for getting it right but we’re using innovation to solve the key problems.  

We take a structured approach to projects from qualification to deployment and ask questions iteratively throughout. We have to make deliberate choices when developing new services, and understand the consequences of those choices on patients, clinicians and budgets.  

By always asking questions, we can move to the next stage of development with a clear understanding of priorities and risks. Guiding stakeholders through that process is really important so that everyone understands what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re going to get there.  


We recently worked together to deliver several projects including a behaviour change campaign to optimise the roll-out of virtual wards across Greater Manchester. How do you think behavioural insight can support the adoption of digital technology in the NHS? 

As a communicator by trade, I firmly believe that good communication is at the heart of successful projects.  

We can’t simply tell patients or clinicians to use new models or technologies. We need to build their trust in the approach and the technology, listen to their concerns and grow their confidence to the point that they’re willing to embrace a new way of doing things.  

Behavioural insight is a fantastic tool for building user knowledge at the start of a project. User research for the virtual wards programme revealed that patients were suspicious of digital services and there was resistance among clinical staff to using the new model. We had to address those issues before rolling out a new service or we would not have gained buy-in from anyone.  


Why did you decide to take a behavioural insight approach to Greater Manchester’s virtual wards campaign? 

We recognised early on that virtual wards are not just about technology but a whole new model of care in people’s homes.  

Remote monitoring of acutely ill patients in their own homes is relatively new, and we found little research or evidence of user experience from other projects. We really wanted to properly understand the environment we were working in to assess how this new model of care should evolve.  

The research we gathered gave services invaluable insights to shape the delivery of care. For example, patient research found an improvement in people’s mental health and wellbeing when they were cared for at home, which helped clinical staff to tailor their approach. Equally, the patient support we managed to demonstrate through research gave the clinical teams more confidence in speaking to patients about remote care options.  


What were some of the biggest challenges faced during the campaign, and how did you address them? 

We’re still at the early stages of the project – just eight months into delivery – but we have learned some valuable lessons already.  

One of the first challenges was to build confidence in virtual wards as a safe alternative to being in a hospital bed. For many clinical staff, it was a huge transition and they needed to be certain that they were not putting their patient’s health at risk. We are doing more work to understand and address this at the moment, but working closely with clinical teams has been crucial.  

We also had to tackle the perception that virtual wards were additional work for clinicians. In reality, this was not more work to add to the day job but a new approach that could release capacity and create a new model of integrated delivery. Staff have big operational asks and clinical pressures to deal with every day, and initiative apathy is keenly felt, so it was important to help people develop a positive mindset to see how the new model of care could benefit them and their patients.  


Find out more 

Hear Laura in conversation with Ethical Healthcare’s Chair Anne Cooper and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, as they discuss achieving digital care equity for all across Greater Manchester in challenging times 

Read our case study on the behaviour change campaign that supported the virtual ward programme in Greater Manchester.  


Get in touch 

If you’re interested in learning more about behaviour change projects or discussing opportunities for collaboration in the healthcare sector, please contact Matthew Roberts at