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Mancunian Ways

Mountain ViewIf you think Windows Vista is slow you should have tried using Fortran IV. I studied at Manchester University where we were able to take advantage of the computing facilities—quite novel in those days. This entailed creating a stack of punched cards which I dutifully placed in a tray in the morning.

After lunch I returned keen to see if my program for calculating square roots had worked only to find the dreaded words “run time error” on the print out, usually after the first milliseconds of the programme’s run. I found my mistake, corrected it and put the cards back in the tray and thus it continued until I got my brainchild to work.

It’s the birthday of Baby the world’s first electronic computer created by Manchester University in 1948, the BBC reports today. Baby could complete calculations in hours that would have taken days by hand.

The UK NHS, also born in 1948, celebrates its 60th anniversary. Health Secretary Nye Bevan was ceremoniously handed the keys to the Park Hospital (now Trafford General ) in Manchester to mark the foundation of the Service.

As if that wasn’t enough coincidence, this year’s NHS Confederation Conference took place in Manchester this week. I was surprised to see how many NHS agencies had individual stands: NHS Improvement, NHS Pathways, NHS Connecting for Health, NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, NHS National Technology Adoption Centre.

They all do worthy work, I'm sure. But I was heavily influenced by the work of Enid Mumford who was a professor at Manchester Business School and her promotion of socio-technical systems, so I find it odd the NHS should have so many trays in which to stack what should be a unified blend of people, processes and technology. One day we will produce that blend, but only after this tendency to reductionism is addressed.

Listening to Joe Simpson (Touching the Void) tell the story at the Conference of his ascent and unconventional and agonising decent of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes puts life into perspective. If we only have a fraction of his courage and dogged determination the NHS will become the socio-technical system it must and gain again the envy of the world.


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