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NHS CIO complains of skills shortage

It’s challenging to recruit and retain the best talent in IT in some parts of the NHS, which leads to difficulties in properly operating and maintaining systems, and in making use of data.

That’s the opinion of Joanna Smith, CIO, Royal Brompton Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, speaking to Computing recently.

“My biggest concern now is around skills shortages and skills capability,” said Smith. “Here in London in the NHS it’s quite challenging to attract and retain the best resources. We invest heavily in great new systems and technologies, and it’s really important that I maintain the ability to support them moving forward.”

She explained that it’s important for IT staff to understand the latest technologies, on top of the specific systems used in healthcare.

“For skills, it’s around an understanding of the specialist systems though obviously we have clinical and patient administration systems so we need people who understand how our clinicians need to work, and grasp the importance of supporting our clinicians so they can deliver great care. But it’s also about very new technologies. Things like VoIP [Voice over IP], and moving to the cloud, these sorts of things. It’s importance I have folk who are familiar with that,” said Smith.

She added that there are processes she’s put in place to help maintain skill levels in certain areas.

“As part of taking on new systems it’s important that we do knowledge transfer to acquire the necessary skills. We use a lot of third parties to help us, to augment our existing staff. We move staff from business as usual to new projects, and transition skills to them so that when vendors move away we’re able to stand alone.”

Smith continued to discuss big data – another area potentially affected by skills shortages.

“Big data is a really big topic in the NHS today and for us particularly. It’s a very specialist hospital and a very key area of our business is research. We need to understand data about our patients, many of whom are with us from birth through to end of life, and that means we collect a very rich amount of information.

“We’ve already taken a lot of that data out of clinical systems and put it into the big corporate clinical data warehouse. The challenge then becomes have we got the right skills and capabilities to really mine and analyse that data? It’s also important that we collaborate with other hospitals, because we’re just one cohort. So we’ve got a joint venture with Liverpool Heart and Chest, and that’s all around cardiovascular medicine and science. But even then there are information governance issues, and we need to properly map the data because we have different ways of doing things. It’s fair to say we’ve got a great vision for it, and we see it has great potential to change pathways to how we deliver care, but it’s going to take a bit of time to really unleash the value.

“We’ve essentially created a third party entity, it’s called the Institute of Cardiovascular Medicine and Science, through that with some funding and some charitable investment, we’re able to work together collaboratively on research activity. But you’ve still got the issue around sharing patient data from the clinical practice, you can’t do that if it’s not for direct care. So then we have to get into anonymised data sets and other information governance issues,” she added.

The full video interview can be found here.

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