Opinion: Digital health - professionalism, careers and inclusivity

Almost every informatics manager you speak to will tell you about problems attracting, recruiting and retaining high-quality informatics staff, says Di Bullman, senior organisational development and learning manager at NHS Digital.

Recently, both the Topol Review and the NHS Interim People Plan have recommended actions to increase capacity and improve capability, particularly to meet the need for future digital roles and skills.

There are a range of problems we need to solve -- from not promoting the health and care industry as a first-choice employer for school and university leavers to not having common professional standards and being unable to describe attractive career opportunities. We also need to ensure we are fully inclusive, offering the same opportunities to everyone. We can’t build the best workforce if, inadvertently or not, we only pick from a limited pool of people.

Within the Building a Digital Ready Workforce Programme (BDRW), we’ve been developing a range of initiatives aimed to support and develop our current workforce, as well as attract new staff.

Our new workstream on Capacity and Supply is starting to gather data on the numbers and roles we will need and work on recruitment and development for early career informatics staff. Meanwhile, in the Professionalism workstream, we are focusing on supporting the staff we already have and setting up some of the framework that will support the profession.

Supporting staff in informatics

BDRW has sponsored the Federation for Informatics Professionals (FEDIP), which brings together the key professional bodies in this area, to provide common professional standards and accreditation for informatics staff, and education and training courses. Having common standards and a professional register will enable employers to ensure their staff and the continuing development courses they take are up to scratch. It also supports transferability by providing a common definition of what "good enough" is, understood by employers in all sectors of health and care.

We have also supported the creation of the new Faculty of Clinical Informatics (FCI), a professional body for clinicians working in informatics. Membership of the Faculty is already over 300, and the latest recruitment round is open until 1 August, so there’s still time if you want to join.

As they grow, both FEDIP and FCI will support informatics staff careers, offering a range of developmental courses, networking and guidance. However, we wanted to see some of the actual career journeys people have taken, especially those that have led to leadership roles. Aasha Cowey, at South, Central and West CSU, has carried out some fantastic research mapping the career journeys of over 500 participants, which we are starting to present and will publish in a full report by September.

To support workforce diversity, we have been working with Shera Chok and Sarah Amani to set up the Shuri Network, which was launched at the Digital Health Summer School last week. Shuri will provide networking, mentoring and developmental support for women of colour in digital health and care, to enable them to move into leadership roles. We also know that great work to tackle diversity is already going on through One HealthTech  and Stemettes and are keen to work with these and others in this area. This isn’t something that will be solved through just one route, so we need a range of solutions.

So, what else should we do? There are lots of really exciting things happening and probably plenty more we don’t yet know about. As managers and leaders, we have invaluable experience of negotiating our own career journeys, and now we need to "hand the ladder down" to those coming behind us.

Di Bullman is the senior organisational development and learning manager at NHS Digital.

 

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