NHS offers IT workers fantastic opportunities

The Government's long-awaited plan to overhaul NHS IT will help to make the health service an increasingly attractive place for...

The Government's long-awaited plan to overhaul NHS IT will help to make the health service an increasingly attractive place for IT professionals to work, according to IT leaders in the health service.

Peter Kidd, technology head of the West Yorkshire Financial Shared Services project, said, "The more that we run projects on a national scale and in collaboration with the private sector the better it will make us at delivery. It will also make working on such projects more attractive to IT professionals."

Last month health minister Lord Hunt unveiled the new strategy, Delivering 21st Century IT Support for the NHS. This outlined the Government's plan to build a modern technology infrastructure across the health service, which is one of the largest and most complex organisations in the world.

Updating IT infrastructure and applications in the NHS could be the biggest IT project the UK has ever seen. Long-term objectives of the strategy include providing broadband access to all NHS clinicians and support staff by 2005, as well as implementation of domain-to-domain encryption.

The NHS has had a reputation as a technology backwater, although senior IT specialists in the service are keen to emphasise that this is not the case.

Kidd, who is seconded to the Financial Shared Services project from the Pinderfields and Pontefract Hospitals NHS Trust, said IT professionals joining the NHS could get the opportunity to work on a number of cutting-edge projects. "If you look at the range of projects we were working on at Pinderfields and Pontefract NHS Trust, these included telemedicine, document imaging and Web and intranet technologies."

There are fantastic opportunities, interesting work and great rewards, he added.

Ted Woodhouse, director of information services at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which is the UK's largest trust, said, "We have examples throughout the trust of very advanced technology, both information technology and medical technology."

The Government's new focus on NHS IT could spell good news for IT professionals. The IT jobs market has been in recession since the dotcom bubble burst. According to Kidd, dotcom skills could come in particularly useful in building new NHS systems, many of which will rely heavily on Web technologies, networking and intranet-type skills, he said.

One criticism that has often been levelled at the health service, like much of the UK public sector, has been that levels of pay often compare unfavourably with those in the private sector. Kidd, however, believes that the NHS has come to realise the value of highly skilled IT professionals. He explained, "The NHS is starting to recognise the value of technical skills."

Ultimately, however, NHS IT managers believe that the new NHS strategy could also lead to the service being perceived as one of the UK's technology leaders.

Kidd said, "Any technology that you can read about in Computer Weekly will have an application in the NHS. This could be, for example, e-commerce, customer relationship management, document management, Internet protocol telephony and wireless application protocol. There are opportunities in the NHS to shape what is important to our patients and consultants."

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