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Tech job vacancies hamper England's digital health plans

£1.1M ambition to recruit 10,000 pros 'inadequate' says committee

The NHS in England has more than 3,000 vacant tech roles, according to a Parliamentary report that describes its progress against government-set digital targets as "inadequate."

A survey of NHS trust leaders, carried out by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), found that there are 3,500 full-time tech pro roles vacant, which it puts down to poor pay and career opportunities, and competition with the wider industry.

"Staffing gaps result in an over-reliance on commercial consultancy, which is costly and results in institutional knowledge being lost," the Parliamentary report says.

While it is struggling to fill existing roles, the government has set ambitious targets to expand the number of IT professionals working directly in the public healthcare sector.

DHSC has said that by 2030 it planned to create posts for an additional 10,500 full-time staff through graduates, apprentices and experienced hires. Charitable trust Health Education England has reported the tech pro workforce is currently around 46,009 people, excluding social care.

The government proposes that the NHS in England – which has a £180.2 billion ($218.3 billion) budget for 2022-2023 – puts £1.1 million ($1.3 million) toward reaching its targets in terms of recruiting and retaining IT staff.

"We are concerned that £1.1 million allocated to these commitments is insufficient to achieve both commitments we have evaluated within the area of the health and care workforce," the report says.

In 2022, DHSC published a policy paper titled called "A plan for digital health and social care" in which it said digitization is necessary if it is to deliver the promise of "vastly improved and more integrated health and social care services."

But the Health and Social Care committee judged progress on this overall ambition as inadequate.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, chair of the committee's expert panel, said: "The aspirations to transform the NHS, supported by the right digital foundations, are to be applauded, however, our report finds evidence mainly of opportunities missed."

The panel found that overall progress towards improving the digital capabilities of the NHS was too slow, and often lacked support and funding. Social care was often missed out in commitments, stifling progress across the health and care system. ®

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