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Digital workforce strategy publication is ‘imminent’, says NHS lead

Digital workforce strategy publication is ‘imminent’, says NHS lead
By Beth Gault
15 March 2024

A plan focusing on the digital workforce in the NHS will be published ‘imminently’, according to an NHS leader.

Speaking at the Digital Health Rewired conference this week (12-13 March), Dr Vin Diwakar, interim national director for transformation at NHS England, said the strategy would cover clinical digital professions and digital data analytics technology (DDaT) professions.

While for the moment it will sit separately to the long-term workforce plan, he said there would be ‘discussions’ about whether it would be part of this in the future.

However, when he was asked if there would be a financial investment to match aspirations, he said that was a ‘wider conversation across government’.

‘There is a digital workforce strategy,’ said Dr Diwakar. ‘The publication is imminent and it’s something that is very much top of our minds at NHS England.’

‘What that will set out is the broad contours of ambition and workforce and what we think the true principles are and where we need to go.’

Attracting talent to the NHS

Dr Diwakar said that there was a common misconception that the NHS will struggle to appoint DDaT professionals because they all work in the private sector and will not move to the public sector unless they have high salaries. But he said this was a ‘fantasy’. 

‘That’s just not true. There are people who do move flexibly between those two, but also there will be those who have committed their careers to work in the public sector as well,’ he said.

He added that it was the NHS’s ambition to professionalise those working within the public sector by having clear standards, curricula and CPD opportunities.

Change starts with leadership

In a separate session looking at the wider system, Sir Julian Hartley, CEO of NHS Providers, added that we are entering a ‘crucial era’ for the NHS, that cannot just be driven by digital-specific staff.

‘Now more than ever it’s important that leaders in the NHS are attuned to and understand the benefits and opportunities of digital, and that we learn from one another,’ he said.  ‘Increasingly I think trust board leaders are starting to get the importance of the digital agenda and that it’s not just the job of the chief information officer to push it.

‘Everyone is seeing the importance of how strong digital foundations can really benefit trusts in relation to their quality of care and treatment.’

He added that NHS Providers, in partnership with NHS Confederation, has engaged 89% of ICSs through their digital ICS programme, where they offer free support to ICSs on leadership development, peer learning and insight briefing.

‘I would emphasise the importance of learning, developing, implementing and being part of this movement, to embrace these ways of working – it does start with the leadership.’

Rachel Hope, product director at NHS England who led the NHS app, added that national NHS leadership could be doing more to drive innovation from the top, rather than relying on local leaders to experiment.

‘There is much more we could do to think about being braver of buying or building things nationally, where we can lift some of those innovations up and start to scale it on behalf of others, rather than rely on it being a domino effect across the whole of the NHS,’ she said.

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