The NHS needs to urgently invest in large scale digital skills-building programmes and detailed workforce planning

25 November 2020

by Jess Abel Consulting

Email +44 (0)7483 422260

Technology offers an opportunity to revolutionise patient care. To capture the benefits of this revolution, the NHS needs to prepare both its workforce and its users to act on the vision of tech powered healthcare.

Over the past 12 months, our in-depth research has highlighted the significance of digital skills training and capabilities building for the future of technology in the NHS. During the course of our research, we engaged senior NHS stakeholders, clinicians and commissioners. We heard that clinicians weren’t confident with the training that they had received and felt unsupported and ill equipped to act on the opportunities that technology presents. To add to this, interviewees felt that there was still work to be done to support the public in fully understanding and engaging with technology, which could aid an important shift towards person-centred care.

Training will be critical to achieving the full potential of tech-powered healthcare - empowering people and carers should come first.

The NHS needs to invest in large-skill digital skills training programmes and build on the positive steps that have already been made, such as the creation of programmes like the Technology Enabled Care Services (TECS) Resource for Commissioners. Taking these initiatives to the next level, digital training programmes should be extended to the broader population and future carers.

“We are still focused on the tech as opposed to the outcome, which is that the patient is in control… but that is going to require us to change the behaviour of the workforce and try to re-educate the population.” Director, NHSE/I

To support the shift in patient care from medicine to person-centred, the general public should be given the skills to understand how their data can be used to manage their own personal health, as well as benefit the overall healthcare system. A great example of delivering this kind of training is the Widening Digital Participation Programme, which was set-up to target health outcomes by supporting individuals who lack the confidence to access digital health resources. Taking this a step further, digital skills training programmes should offer tailored modules to patients and their carers, who would benefit from the enhanced accessibility of digital care; as well as clinicians, to support them in adapting their practice to a more people-driven system.

We should also look to design training opportunities that bring health management out of a medicalised setting - for example, delivering in libraries or leisure centres - can bring a new perspective. Using the entire public estate shows that health choices should be part of everyday life, not confined to the GP’s office. In an age where health is so dependent on everyday life choices, this will prove essential in adapting care to modern day health issues.

The future will require roles that do not yet exist in the NHS - bold workforce and capability planning is critical.

In 2017, NHS Digital released the Fit for 2020 Digital Capability Report, which laid out a plan to improve its own digital capabilities, including a detailed workforce plan. The broader NHS could learn from this approach: it’s a far stretch from the current People Plan of the NHS Long Term Plan, which focuses on generic recruitment and retention slogans, and places minimal emphasis on technology capability building. The NHS needs a detailed workforce plan with a focus on technological capability to prepare for the jobs of the future that technology will deliver. Some roles may disappear but there will be many others created and new skills and capabilities will be required - preparing for that needs to start now.

The NHS needs systems that celebrate the successes of emerging digital talent - encouraging and rewarding technical merit is key.

A new community of technical staff must be recruited, properly represented, trained and valued as an essential part of the workforce. This requires both a cultural and structural solution (see our thoughts on ‘Getting the culture right’).

“My training at the moment hasn’t really touched upon the development of technology in the NHS. I think this topic is one that I look into on my own accord after having frustrations with the current systems.” - Junior Doctor

The incoming clinical workforce needs to be trained to understand these roles and how they can be used to support healthcare delivery. During our research junior doctors told us they did not feel equipped to work closely with advanced technology, nor with the people who would be using these tools. This needs to change so that any student leaving medical school can recognise the health opportunities in technology, understand them and use them to improve the care they are giving. To ensure this comes full circle, we should ensure all new recruits - clinical or otherwise - are both equally encouraged and rewarded to embrace the technological advances that will transform the healthcare system and hugely impact patient care and outcomes.

You can find out more about our recommendations to address this in our ‘Getting the skills right’ essay.

by Jess Abel Consulting

Email +44 (0)7483 422260