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NHS launches projects to increase digital health tech skills

NHS England aims to create digital academy to up-skill CIOs and CCIOs, while NHS Digital has launched a three-year public digital participation programme

NHS England is looking for a partner to help deliver a virtual NHS Digital Academy, with the aim of training up to 300 CIOs and chief clinical information officers (CCIOs) to drive health and care transformation.

The partner contract is valued at around £6m for three years, according to the advertisement published by Capita on behalf of NHS England.

The programme aims to cover “key areas and skills that will be required by CIOs and CCIOS as well as future digital leaders to be able to lead and set strategy for digital and e-health innovation across the health system from large scale health IT systems (for example, electronic health records) to personal health and wellness devices,” according to the ad.

“In addition, our leaders will be able to understand the power of the data these systems hold, how it can be used to support decision-making, planning and delivery of health care,” it added.

The initiative follows US professor Robert Wachter’s review of the NHS’s digital future, published in 2016, where he said he was concerned at the lack of clinicians with informatics training.

The report recommended that a chief clinical information officer (CCIO) should be appointed at every trust, with “appropriate organisational and budgetary authority”. It added that at an average size NHS trust, should have at least five “well-qualified clinicians with advanced informatics training”.

The programme will be run as a 12-month part-time programme, with a new cohort of 50 delegates joining every six months. Its key focuses include the essentials of health informatics, usable health systems design, leadership, implementation, use of data and clinical decision support.

NHS England hopes that up to 300 NHS staff will be trained by the end of 2020/2021.

At the same time, NHS Digital (formerly known as HSCIC), has launched the next phase of its widening digital participation (WDP) programme, aiming to reduce public lack of confidence and skills in digital health technology.

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The programme plans to develop 20 local digital inclusion pathfinder projects together with the Good Things Foundation to develop models “for effective local partnerships to imrpove digital health skills and access to digital services and information”.

The first two projects have already launched. In London, Islington Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is working with young people with mental health issues and learning disabilities. In Sheffield, the project is supporting elderly people with long-term conditions through a social prescribing initiative.

NHS Digital’s WDP programme director Amanda Neylon said there is a “strong correlation between digital exclusion and health inequalities”.

“Through this project we hope to enable and support vulnerable people to take control of their own health care by providing them with the skills and confidence to go online and access digital health information and services,” she said. As well as involving CCGs, the projects will also include local authorities and community groups “in areas of high need”. 

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