Chris Price, Computacenter’s Public Sector Director, explores how the NHS can deliver better outcomes by adopting new technologies and digital processes
I recently used an online company to do a finger-prick blood test instead of going to see an NHS phlebotomist and was amazed by the speed and ease of the service. It’s a good illustration of how the NHS could – and should – be evolving to improve the patient experience.
The potential for transformation in the healthcare sector is huge: patients want it, frontline staff want it, and NHS leaders want it. Health Secretary Matt Hancock is a real technology advocate and aims to make the NHS the most cutting-edge in the world. And a Computacenter survey of more than 100 IT professionals across NHS trusts backs this up. The demand for new technology is high, with a wide-ranging wish list: for example 30% of respondents want to implement tablet devices in the next 12 months, providing technology at the point of patient care.
But implementing and transforming technology needs financial resources – with many trusts claiming that budget constraints are the prime reason for their inability to upgrade ageing IT infrastructure.
With the current political turmoil, it is likely that modernisation of the NHS will take a back seat. But we can’t afford to neglect this: to deliver better patient outcomes and value for money, we have to push the digital roadmap forward. Computacenter is playing its part by working with NHS Digital and individual trusts to not only accelerate the adoption of new technologies but also to maximise benefits realisation.
Investing in the future
Greater digitalisation will require new skills, new processes, and new policies. Navigating this new landscape will not be easy: as well as highlighting a lack of budget and resources, our survey revealed that some IT system upgrades are not pursued as they are just too complicated.
Security will be a key priority – both at a national and a local level – as healthcare data becomes digital. As part of our work with NHS Digital, we have deployed a network analytics solution that will help to identify patterns of potential threats across the NHS Digital Health and Social Care Network.
NHS organisations will need to develop new skills to aid the implementation, optimisation and management of these and other new technologies.
At Computacenter, we are committed to investing in future talent both within our business and beyond. Each year we employ in excess of 100 young people across a number of different technical and business programmes to give them a springboard into a career in the tech industry. We also promote school and university outreach to show students the opportunities that can arise from working with technology. We are delighted that these efforts have been recognised; Computacenter recently won an award for the best medium-sized organisation’s undergraduate industrial placement programme.
The transformation of NHS IT is critical to the future of healthcare delivery and enabling a more preventative approach: modernising IT is the top priority in 2019 for our survey respondents. The government has already recognised the importance of technology and now is the time to step up its commitment.
The NHS faces unprecedented financial and operational challenges, and patient care is suffering despite the determined efforts of frontline staff. We want to help the NHS with its needs of today and also prepare it for the digital opportunities of tomorrow.
When it comes to health, a better experience is important for all of us: the quicker patients and clinicians receive information, the quicker they can take action to improve wellbeing. Receiving that blood test result so promptly meant I could make more informed decisions and catch any small health issues before they become big health issues. With the right technology, this can all be done in my time and without consuming valuable resources at the local GP surgery!
Find out more about Computacenter’s work in the public sector.
Encouraging the youth of today to become the tech leaders of tomorrow
In technology terms, UK businesses have never had it better. The UK tech sector now accounts for 10 percent of GDP and Tech Nation’s 2018 annual report revealed that the UK firmly leads in Europe, attracting £28bn in technology investment since 2011, compared with £11bn in France and £9.3bn in Germany.
Continuing adoption of cloud and virtualisation technologies and increasing interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities demonstrates that business leaders are aware of the increased productivity and profitability that’s on offer. However, even for those embracing the digital revolution, there remains a significant obstacle to realising the full benefits of modern IT infrastructure technologies.
Whilst the IT skills gap is now old news, it’s also not going anywhere fast. The deficit of skilled tech experts across the globe continues to grow and with Brexit looming in the UK, the outlook is even more uncertain. Many organisations are looking at short term solutions, such as de-siloing their IT departments to make expertise more broadly available and even outsourcing infrastructure to managed service providers (MSPs), but this doesn’t address the core issue. There’s still a real need to develop long term solutions to ensure UK businesses and the wider economy remains productive and competitive in the global marketplace in 2019 and beyond.
Mind the gap
In 2016, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee delivered a damning report on the state of the skills gap – calling the situation a crisis and revealing that even down to the level of ICT teachers, there is a critical shortage of qualified candidates. That same report revealed that in the previous year over 90 percent of tech-based businesses struggled to fill vacancies and that the growing digital skills gap was already affecting their commercial activities.
To make matters worse, many of the UK’s digital technology businesses have historically relied upon talent from the wider European Union and the looming Brexit situation is only projected to starve the economy further of qualified IT professionals and engineers. Present estimates from the UK Government indicate that the digital skills gap is currently costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP and as we transition towards an increasingly digital world, addressing the digital skills gap will be crucial to growth across every industry sector.
Looking ahead then, there are only two clear paths to sustaining growth and success; providing greater opportunities and incentives to cultivate new STEAM graduates through the UK education system, and creating new jobs for these new workers to excel in.
Establishing a meritechracy
At Computacenter our experience of the increased demand for tech resources, paired with the huge IT skills gap, led us to start an initiative to build our own homegrown talent. We believe that it is our responsibility to help school and university students across multiple subject disciplines to realise their true abilities and to become everything they could be.
In 2007 we established a programme of associate, apprenticeship, and graduate schemes to attract and encourage a diverse range of candidates to become the next generation of engineers and tech leaders, and it has been a resounding success. Since January 2015 alone, Computacenter has employed 142 apprentices, with over half of those in Technology based subjects following structured training and development plans with education and work elements. We also offer young people support through an Industrial Placement Programme, where university students spend 12 months working in a job that may relate to their studies and future career aspirations.
Both of these pathways are essential and we feel this demonstrates the level of our commitment to addressing the skills shortage, specifically within IT whilst providing more opportunities for talented young people. With 14 percent of the UK workforce currently aged 28 or under, and having seen a 67 percent retention rate on our programmes to date, we are confident Computacenter is driving this subject right from the top!
A brighter future
As UK businesses continue to voice their concerns around the growing skills gap, the Government appears to be taking heed of the seriousness of the situation and implementing strategies to attempt to reverse the national skills deficit. However, it’s not enough. We will need the entire industry to collaborate and create a long-term solution to address the skills crisis, with a strong focus on training and creating accessible entry level jobs.
At Computacenter, we believe that it’s necessary for businesses to take a more active role in building and nurturing the talent they need to succeed in the future. Given the increasing demand for ‘job ready’ applicants, programmes such as apprenticeships and industry placements will prove invaluable in attracting and developing skilled workers who will enable both public and private sector organisations to leverage the latest technologies and achieve their full potential.
Chris Price is Director of Public Sector & SI for Computacenter.
The much anticipated and long awaited Government Transformation Strategy (GTS) was published last week by Ben Gummer MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, The strategy provides a clear and solid framework for the future direction of public services transformation, looking ahead to 2020 and beyond.
The priorities identified in the Strategy are all sensible and highly relevant. They include back-office redesign, a focus on securing and retaining the right people and skills, better use of data, cross-department collaboration, developing Government-as-a-Platform and internal government transformation, giving civil servants the right work tools.
So far so good. The ambition, vision and aims are all spot on. It is also clear that the market has been listened to and the more ‘collaborative’ style of engagement with all is welcome.
However, as the GTS document notes, that is not to take-away but build on the very significant progress towards digital government and public services transformation over the last five years.
What next? Here’s our take on two areas in the Strategy that GDS and departments should prioritise:
Right people and right skills: the GTS aims to tackle deep change, transforming the way Government operates, from the front end to the back office. To do this, it needs to urgently develop a plan for ensuring greater investment & focus on developing the right commercial skills and understanding to enable a genuine partnership with industry and in doing so create a level playing field. The likely impact of IR35 needs to be urgently understood and gaps addressed.
Transparency & strong engagement: as a centre of digital expertise, GDS needs to take a leadership role and support departments to develop early market engagement mechanisms into their business planning as well as give civil servants the skills to have a robust and effective dialogue with suppliers based on transparency and trust.
Home grown British tech companies, large and small, are the engine of our economy. The Industrial strategy launched earlier this month makes an explicit commitment by Government to using public procurement to drive innovation and deliver more diverse supply chains. The benefits are clear – allowing Government to harness industry expertise and knowledge to become a more demanding customer as well as help commissioners and policy makers experiment and innovate more successfully with technology.
Computacenter are proud to be working with the UK Government and challenger new entrants like us have an important role in the delivery of the Strategy and in ensuring UK remains a global leader in its approach to public service delivery. We will support the implementation of this strategy both directly as a supplier to the public sector and through our leadership roles with industry body’s techUK and CBI.
Let’s now work together, on the detail and the plan, to deliver the transformation we all want.