Director National Skills Academy for Health
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The NHS and digital skills – the new generation

16th Dec 2016
Director National Skills Academy for Health
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A recent NHS review has revealed that in order for the sector to maintain a high standard of patient care, a significant increase in investment for training in technology is needed. Director of National Skills Academy for Health, Candace Miller, looks at what this means for the sector and how new recruits will need a breadth of digital skills.

Leading US clinician, Bob Watcher, highlighted the pressing need to ensure the healthcare workforce has the right skills for a digital future in his recent review of the use of technology in the sector in England.

In response to Wachter’s review, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the Government had selected 12 NHS Trusts across England to become digital academies, to trail blaze new ways of using technology and inspire “a digital revolution” across the health service.

This is a good step in the right direction that we at the National Skills Academy for Health (NSA Health) support, but as Wachter’s report states, digital transformation is a huge challenge that will involve “enormous changes in culture, structure, governance and training”.

A new set of skills

It is not simply a matter of bringing in new technology; the front-line workforce must be supported to make those technologies work, and effective training is the key. With technology being so prevalent in today’s society, there is the assumption that workers are digitally literate. However, digital skills are needed across all roles, from admin, to healthcare assistants, to radiologists, and Wachter’s report recognises that trend.

Looking ahead another ten years, day-to-day interactions between humans and machines in hospital are likely to be commonplace

Ten years ago, we didn’t imagine we would need specialist skills to programme and maintain robots now commonly used within larger hospital sites to transport goods and materials from storeroom to ward. Looking ahead another ten years, day-to-day interactions between humans and machines in hospital are likely to be commonplace and can indeed free up time of staff for more pressing roles.

At NSA Health we are determined to help keep the next generation ahead of the curve. The demand for digital skills training is on the rise with it becoming more and more relevant for a wide range of roles in both clinical and operational settings. We’ve seen a significant increase in requests from local employers involved in designing training for their staff at our Excellence Centres.

Larger organisations may already have training and programmes in place for staff, but it’s a different picture for much smaller organisations. In the care environment, many patients track and monitor their own health, and all care workers need to have the basic skills to use this equipment efficiently.

Learning providers must pave the way

Skills training and development must keep up with the current climate and constant technological advancement. To this end, our quality assured provider network keeps their courses under constant review, guided by what the sector needs.

To ensure workers are receiving the most up-to date training that they can put straight into practice, it is essential that training providers expose learners to up-to-date equipment and software that matches what individuals have in their workplace now and in the future.

Training providers linked to NSA Health Excellence Centres must hold or be working towards the Skills for Health Quality Mark. This helps employers identify those learning providers who meet the needs of the health sector and are in tune with training requirements, while ensuring that all employees are trained to the same consistently high standards.

Technology is the future, eLearning is already our present

Today’s learners, like the population at large, expect to interact online and to find the resources they need through online mechanisms.  It is imperative that training providers use digital technologies to encourage digital learning. We encourage NSA Health linked training providers to use online learner management systems extensively to share information, track learner progress and undertake assessments. 

In addition, e-learning courses are designed to offer a flexible approach to learning and enable the workforce to upskill and develop while not leaving their place of work or fitting it in around shift work. This is particularly important for smaller practices where staff can’t take time away from their role for long.

Going live

The 12 new NHS Digital Academies will be pioneers of training in technology, but they won’t be alone in championing best practice. To make this happen, organisations and learning providers across the sectors, both small and large, need to work together to collectively improve the digital skills of our workforce. To foster sharing best practice within the sector we will, where appropriate, make links between our Excellence Centres and the new NHS Digital Academies.

Importantly, the “go live” period is just the start. As digital systems evolve and mature, the roles and services around them must also develop and providers will need to be ready to deliver them, at the right level, now and in the future and NSA Health is committed to ensuring this happens.

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