NHS struggling to attract IT staff with a commercial background

IT professionals without NHS experience do not believe that there is demand for their skills within the National Health Service, despite reforms creating a massive demand for IT leaders with a commercial background.


IT professionals without NHS experience do not believe that there is demand for their skills within the National Health Service, despite reforms creating a massive demand for IT leaders with a commercial background.

Research carried out by specialist recruiters max20 and Computerworld UK found that although most NHS IT professionals (72 percent) welcome new recruits from a commercial background, over half of non-NHS IT leaders questioned (59 percent) believe that they would not be considered without existing experience working for the National Health Service.

Over 200 senior IT professionals, both from within the NHS and the outside, were surveyed as part of the research.

It also found that almost all (95 percent) of non-NHS IT staff would actively apply for a position working for the NHS if they thought it was opening up opportunities to those with a commercial background.

Changes in demand for the type of IT staff have been created by the phasing out of PCTs, which have been replaced by CCGs and CSUs, where there is an increasing need for skilled business analysts, project managers and transformation specialists to help drive the changes.

Almost a third (30 percent) of NHS IT professionals surveyed said that the changes will bring a more commercial outlook within the NHS, which will create greater efficiency in IT projects being implemented with greater speed.

Don Tomlinson managing director of IT NHS recruitment specialists max20 said: “The fact that NHS experience is often no longer a prerequisite to working in the organisation for many IM&T roles has not permeated the IT community. The message needs to be communicated.”

“The IT communities within and outside the NHS still need to learn more about each other. There is a lack of communication and direct experience and so clichés and inaccurate views still persist.”

He added: “I think this will change, perhaps slower than we would want, as the NHS enters a period of dramatic change that is in large part being driven by IT professionals.”

Some 49 percent of on-NHS IT professionals also stated that if the NHS wanted to attracted more IT staff from a commercial background, it would need to improve its recruitment processes to attract from other sectors. Only 16 percent said better wages was a factor.

John Rayner, the Director of The Health Informatics Service, one of the largest health informatics services based in West Yorkshire, spoke to Computerworld UK about the results and agreed that the NHS still has a very closed attitude towards employment from other sectors.

“In principle it shouldn’t matter – IT is IT. It’s about understanding the context. I think everybody in health, whether you work in IT or whether you work in finance, should have an understanding of health and how care is provided. I think anybody who comes from the commercial sector, with IT skills, can learn the health side of it very quickly. I don’t agree with the hypothesis that the only IT people who are attracted to the NHS are those with an NHS background,” said Rayner.

“However, I think the NHS always thinks it needs people with NHS experience, and therefore that prejudice is passed on to the recruitment companies. I think the NHS also advertises all of its services all in one place. You don’t often find the junior and middle grade jobs in the computer journals, you certainly don’t see them in the national press, they tend to be on the NHS jobs website. The most senior positions are within the Health Service Journal. If you don’t know to look in these places, you won’t see NHS jobs.”

He added: “If the NHS is really serious about attracting people from other sectors, then it must change.”

Rayner also said that from his years’ of experience within the NHS IT industry he has found that hospitals and healthcare providers are very complacent when it comes to running the organisation like a business and that there is a desperate requirement for commercial skills.

“We’ve built our reputation [at The Health Informatics Service] on being a commercial organisation. The vast majority of people who supply IT services to the NHS are sat within the NHS and don’t have that mind set at all. If you look at your average district hospital they wouldn’t see the need,” he said.

“I think there’s a massive need to get skills in from the commercial and private sector because of how weak I know the NHS is in conducting its service as a business. All of our contract income comes from customers, so if we lose a contract, we lose money. That’s not an environment that the majority of NHS colleagues live in – it doesn’t really matter how good or bad the service is, they still get paid.”

Finally, the research found that there is a perception from outside of the NHS that IT provided in the healthcare environment is seriously lagging behind other sectors. Some 69 percent of non-NHS IT respondents believe this to be the case.

Rayner, again, agrees with the results.

“The vast majority of NHS is lagging behind when compared with, for example, the retail and banking sector. Even the local authorities have got much more switched on in terms of multi-channel access, giving citizens all sorts of online services, in a way that the NHS will just not wise up to,” he said.

“I do think this will change going forward – given that the government has said that it wants the NHS to be paperless by 2018.”

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