Health Service Focus

29.09.16

NHS digital academy: Delivering a digital workforce

Source: NHE Sep/Oct 16

During this year’s NHS Expo health secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans to develop an NHS Digital Academy. David Stevenson reports.

In order for the digitisation of the NHS to succeed there needs to be significant investment in the development and support of clinical informatician leaders, according to an independent report into NHS IT. 

‘The Making IT Work’ report’s advisory group, led by Dr Robert Wachter, was struck by the small number of leaders at most trusts who are trained in both clinical care and informatics, and their “limited budgetary authority and organisational clout”. 

It stated that this deficit, along with a general lack of workforce capacity amongst both clinician and non-clinician informatics professionals, needs to be remedied. 

The report authors suggested that by December 2017 a programme should be established and launched to rapidly train CCIOs, CIOs, and other healthcare informaticians in executive leadership and informatics. The initial graduates would be those working at trusts in Groups A and B, as suggested by Dr Wachter in his phased implementation plan for NHS digitisation. 

Shortly after the report’s publication, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced that for the first time an NHS Digital Academy, which will help train NHS professionals in the key skills they will need to deliver digital healthcare, would be launched. 

Although details about the Academy are still limited, Hunt told delegates at NHS Expo: “We are going to set up an NHS Digital Academy, based at a UK university, which will be centre of excellence for helping hospitals learn the lessons Bob was talking about. 

“We are launching a competition to find a university partner for the NHS, who can host the NHS Digital Academy.” Further announcements are expected in the coming weeks. 

The Wachter Review had called for the allocation of approximately £42m (1% of the £4.2bn to be spent on digitising the NHS) to support workforce development and deployment. However, no confirmation has been given on the amount to be invested. 

During a session after the launch of the ‘Making IT Work’ report, James Freed, chief information officer at Health Education England, said it was important that the advisory group had been talking about people. 

“We’ve known for a long time in informatics to make a technology programme work you need three things: the technology; the people, absolutely; and the processes,” he said.  “We also know that there has been a real temptation, time and time again, to over-invest in the technology side and forget about the other two. This is a great opportunity to reverse that trend. Nonetheless, this a first step.” 

Andy Kinnear, who along with many titles is director of digital transformation at NHS South, Central and West CSU, reflected that the move towards professionalisation of healthcare informatics isn’t coming from a standing start, as there has been ongoing work around this. 

He did welcome the Wachter Review’s call for a Faculty of Clinical Informatics, working closely with the British Computer Society and the Royal Colleges, to launch an accreditation and professionalisation agenda designed, ultimately, to certify and professionalise the CCIO workforce. 

Dr Joe McDonald, chair of the CCIO Network, said he was delighted to welcome the report’s contents and recommendations, particularly with “respect to the importance of developing a cadre of CCIOs to deliver the digital transformation the NHS needs”. 

Sivakumar Anandaciva, head of analysis at NHS Providers, said it was important that the review had taken on board lessons from the past and highlighted the fact that successful digitisation of the NHS cannot be achieved without “investing in, supporting and engaging our workforce”. 

“The digital agenda offers considerable benefit for patients and NHS organisations with real potential to drive person-centred care and explore efficiencies,” he said. “It is important to realise this potential at pace, however, as the report recognises, ‘digitising effectively is not simply about the technology, it is mostly about the people’ – and people will require appropriate support to deliver a digitally fit-for-purpose NHS by 2023.”

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