Mona Hayat is a Clinical Fellow and is the founder and CEO of Nexus Digital Technology, a disruptive healthcare technology startup. Mona has extensive experience leading large programmes across the UK healthcare industry, including as the executive healthcare lead for the Grenfell Tower disaster. In 2019 she was awarded the “Top 100 Global Healthcare Leadership Accolade”.
What gave you the desire to work in healthcare?
Interestingly, my journey into healthcare began from a mental health angle. When I was at university I started volunteering for Nightline, which is a service that students who are struggling can call to talk to someone about what they’re going through. I found the work really interesting, and it led me to also begin training as a Samaritan, a role which made me really curious about learning more about the world of mental health. I realised this was something I could be really good at, and I decided to train as a psychotherapist. After completing my undergraduate, I went on to do a Masters, and at the same time, I was training in psychotherapy. It was a really academically intensive period of time, but I think it was worth it.
Whilst doing my psychotherapy training, I had the opportunity to work across all kinds of settings, from substance misuse to domestic violence and everything in between. After completing my training I decided to specialise in addiction treatment, and that’s really where my career started. Inevitably I fell into the NHS, where I worked for 25 years. I started off as a clinician, but over time I moved more onto the management side as my experience grew. When I eventually left the NHS last year, I decided I wanted to do something disruptive in the healthcare space, and that’s how Nexus Digital Technology was born.
You’ve worked on some incredibly high-profile projects, including the Grenfell disaster. Why is it that people choose you to do these jobs over your competitors?
Firstly, I think I’ve demonstrated a huge amount of integrity over the years. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I always put my patients first, regardless of the circumstances. Even in the latter part of my career at the NHS, when I was operating at C-suite level, I still continued to practice privately, because it was so important to me to stay connected to patient need and keep doing the groundwork. So, I think that’s one big reason, my integrity around delivering effective patient care.
Another reason I get chosen to work on important projects is that I’m quite a courageous person. This is an incredibly important asset to have in these projects, as you need to be willing to act as the voice of your patients, which can take a lot of courage in some situations. I also think it’s important to be comfortable working on such high-profile jobs, and that helped me to stand out as the right candidate for the job too.
Grenfell was a really interesting one for me, because a lot of what I had to do was completely outside of my job description. I was having to manage the media and communicate with politicians on a weekly basis, which was really new to me. I had to be aware of the fine line that exists between delivering palatable information to the public and the reality of what the community were going through, and it was so important to me to accurately represent this community’s anger and grief. The community in which the disaster happened has high deprivation rates and a long history of enduring mental health problems, so I felt it was even more important for these people who were so used to facing health inequalities to be heard.
What made you want to move more into the technology side of healthcare?
Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of our beloved NHS and I always will be, I was incredibly sad to leave the NHS. However, I’m not naïve about the lack of innovation and new technologies available to the NHS. The systems don’t talk to each other, they’re quite simply draconian, and this means that patients have to answer the same questions, again and again, every time they go through a new loop in the healthcare system. This was an aspect of the NHS that I found absolutely maddening. It’s inconvenient for patients, it’s clunky, and it leaves you open to clinical risk, among other things.
With Nexus, I wanted to develop a platform that would act as a central repository of information for people which would be easy to access and would provide a positive experience for service users. Our ethos is that we believe in the whole health of a person, we don’t separate physical and mental health. We’ve created an integrated platform where service users get allocated tokens which they can spend on any of the services available on our platform. We have so many wonderful services, from book clubs to gym classes to language lessons, and they can choose any of these to spend their tokens on. The platform is also tailored to each individual’s specific health needs, and at the end of each month, it provides you with a dashboard informing you of the physical and mental progress you’ve made, how many people you’ve connected with that month and loads of other data which motivates people to keep going. We’re basically the Just Eat of the wellness space! We have loads of people offering amazing services, and by having them all in one place it makes it easier for our service users to connect with services.
As an executive coach, how do you teach people to become better leaders?
The one consistent thing I find with executive leaders is that they don’t have enough time. They’re living in a reactive environment where they’re constantly reacting to deadlines, emails, the needs of their team, and it takes up all of their time. My role is to help them carve out thinking time and to show them how to use it in a constructive way. I have a lot of tools which help them figure out whether they’re happy with where they’re at in their career, what’s the next step for them, and how they can use their time more smartly. It’s about getting great leaders to reflect more on their performance and how they could improve. I absolutely love doing executive coaching, and I get an awful lot out of it.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve definitely had a few challenges! Grenfell was probably my biggest challenge. The NHS is quite predictable in many ways. The systems and structures are really clear, and people who work for the NHS do it because they really care, not just for the sake of having a job. It’s like working for a giant community where everyone has the same ethos and everyone is valued. In some respects, that makes working for the NHS comfortingly formulaic.
In contrast, Grenfell was so far out of my comfort zone, it was unlike anything any of us had dealt with before. It was the biggest disaster the UK had had since World War Two. At first, I was a bit out of my depth. All of a sudden I was in charge of commissioning and setting up bespoke services for the survivors and the bereaved. Working with such a diverse community was a challenge in itself because everyone had such different needs. I essentially learnt on the job! Of course, I had extensive experience in healthcare, but this was like nothing I’d ever dealt with before.
To give you a tangible example, usually, when the NHS is assessing someone who has been traumatised, part of the assessment involves asking them if they feel suicidal. Well, there were a lot of Moroccan women who lived in Grenfell Tower, and if you ask a Moroccan woman who is Muslim if she’s feeling suicidal, she may never come to see you again, because suicide is against the Qur’an. So, essentially we had to get creative rather than asking that typically scientific, Euro-centric question of these women, and that’s what we did. We set up the Moroccan Women’s Cous Cous Group, and every Wednesday they would all come together and make delicious couscous, and do you know what? They felt comfortable enough in that setting to be able to talk about their trauma.
We had to get creative a lot throughout the course of my time working on the project, but it was important for us to help these people engage with their trauma and their grief. It didn’t matter that we had to do it creatively, what mattered was that we were doing it in the right way for each individual person. It was by far the toughest thing I’ve ever worked on, but I’m incredibly proud of what we delivered, and I believe that we did the best we could for the community.