NHS Hack Day

It has been about 6 months since I started my new job at NHSX - I've loved getting stuck in to the Health Service culture. But there was one thing I was missing... a decent hack day!

I was delighted to get a ticket to NHS Hack Day. This is a quick post about the event, and what I learned.

What's the point of a hackday?

There were three common reactions from people when I said a bunch of geeks were going to an NHS Hack.

  1. Ah! But the real problem is [some incredibly complicated thing] - please can you fix that?
  2. OMG! Don't build anything fun! Isn't the NHS too important for that?
  3. WTF? Are you using private patient data in your hacking?!

To answer these points in order

  1. No. A weekend hack is suitable for building a sketch of something which might be useful. We can't fix systemic issues overnight.
  2. No. Hackdays are about fun. Sometimes building something silly is the best way to demonstrate a point. We can only explore through creative play.
  3. No. No one had access to private data. There are some public APIs which give things like waiting times, and prescription levels, but nothing sensitive.

We need to get better at explaining what the aims of a hackday are.

What worked

This was such a well organised event! Even had plenty of vegan food! Strong WiFi, decent seating and desks, and plug sockets everywhere.

Some of the hacks demonstrated were incredible. Everything from computer vision to online forms.

But, the best thing? The wide range of people! Need an epidemiologist? She's right over there! Want an API developer? Here's a couple! A great mix of ages, genders, skills, and backgrounds. It felt really well curated.

What didn't

Not much to complain about, so here's some constructive criticism. All minor points.

  • Make the 2nd day shorter. The event wrapped up at about 17:30. That's a little late on a Sunday, especially when people have work or school the next day.
  • Food was great, but the only thing to drink was coffee or tea. Luckily there was a supermarket nearby for some fruit juice and fizzy pop.
  • Because the teams were all in little rooms, it was hard to mix ideas and seek help. While big rooms are noisy, it does give you a chance to shout out "anyone here know Python" and get some help if you need it.


We came second!

Winning a set of EXCLUSIVE t-shirts!

We developed an Alexa skill which could answer questions about hospitals like "what's the waiting time", "is there car parking", and "what rating is the hospital". Additionally, it could also answer questions about prescription charges.

All the code is on GitHub.

It was really hard to keep our demo short. We also had to resist the urge to add more and more features. When there is only 3 minutes to show off what you've learned, you've got to really concentrate on what it is you want to show off.

Anyway, huge thanks to everyone who attended and the organisers for making such an incredible weekend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: