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NHS SBS launches digital advisory framework

The Digital Health Advisory Services framework agreement aims to provide a way for health and care organisations to get help with digital transformation and skills

NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) has launched a one-of-a-kind framework agreement, intended to provide NHS and social care with ways of tackling digital challenges in their organisation.

The framework consists of 40 vetted consultancy services that will be able to provide a range of supportive measures to the sector.

This includes digital training and upskilling of staff, support to deliver digital projects, clinical informatics advisory services, and provision of temporary digital, data and technology (DDaT) staff.

Research from Health Education England’s digital readiness programme found that the NHS needs a further 32,000 DDaT professionals in the lead up to 2030 if it’s to fulfil the digital transformation plans set out by government. However, recruiting DDaT professionals to the private sector is often difficult, as the private sector often offers higher wages and better conditions.

While the NHS figures out a way to recruit and retain the large number of DDaT staff required, it needs a short-term solution and investment in a digital workforce, which is where the framework comes in.

David Holbrook, senior category manager for the digital workforce and IT transformation at NHS SBS, said the NHS Long Term Workforce Plans claim “harnessing the opportunities presented by digital and technological innovations requires NHS staff to continue to build digital skills and capabilities”.

“Workforce is one of the most cited challenges facing the NHS, and the purpose of our framework agreement is to help accelerate successful digital adoption by providing immediate access to the tools, expertise and digital skills the NHS needs and to help it bridge the gap along its journey to transformation,” he said.

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The providers on the new framework all specialise in digital healthcare, with half of them being small to medium-sized enterprises. The framework is free to access for a range of health and care organisations, including GP practices, hospitals, emergency services and health centres.

Larger integrated care systems, covering both health and social care, also get free access to the framework to procure support to complete digital programmes already ongoing, or to accelerate the digital transformation in the organisation.

The two-year framework will run for two years, with two potential 12-month extensions, and consists of four lots. This includes specialist clinical and healthcare digital consulting, clinical and digital health delivery and augmentation, clinical data science and population health analysis, and digital skills in healthcare.

While central government is keen on digitising the NHS and taking full advantage of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), some NHS organisations still struggle with basic, barely functioning IT equipment and patchy Wi-Fi.

In his Spring Budget, chancellor and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised a whopping £2bn will be spent on updating legacy IT across the NHS, ensuring the groundwork is in place for greater use of new technologies, including AI.

“This funding will significantly reduce the 13 million hours of time doctors spend on poor IT, freeing up significant capacity and revolutionising treatment for a range of illnesses such as cancer and strokes,” according to the Spring Budget “red book” published alongside the chancellor’s speech.

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