The UK’s healthcare sector is preparing for a digital future with the launch of a new workforce strategy that will see an increased emphasis on digital skills. But could this shift create a skills shortage within the industry? According to recent research, there is a risk that not enough workers will be available to fill the growing number of digital roles in healthcare. Let’s take a closer look at the plan.
What is the UK Government’s plan for digital health and social care?
The UK government has unveiled a new workforce strategy to increase the focus on digital skills in healthcare. The plan sets out the government’s vision for a ‘digital-first’ health and social care system.
The four major reform goals
The plan sets out four major reform goals that will do the following:
- Prevent people’s health and social care needs from escalating
- Personalise health and social care and reduce health disparities
- Improve the experience and impact of people providing services
- Transform performance
How does the plan intend to do this?
By 2025, the government wants every citizen to be able to access their health and social care records online. The government wants to have all health and social care organisations using digital tools and technologies to improve the quality of care. How will they make this happen? They’ve outlined four main strategies in their plan.
1. Embed digital technologies
One of the main plans in the new digital strategy is to create a more integrated digital healthcare system through technology. This includes:
- Digitising health and care records. Patient records can be kept digitally, which makes them easier to access and helps to ensure that they are always up-to-date. Additionally, digital technologies can help healthcare workers to be more efficient in their work. For example, digitising patient records can save time as health professionals no longer need to spend time searching through folders for information
- Creating a life-long, joined-up health and social care record. The plan wants to make it easier for health and social care professionals to access someone’s entire medical and social care history to provide the best care
- Digitally-supported diagnoses. This involves using digital tools such as AI to help healthcare professionals make diagnoses. This can be helpful because it can speed up the diagnosis process and help ensure that diagnoses are accurate
- Communication tools. Communication tools such as video conferencing can be used to allow patients to communicate with healthcare professionals from the comfort of their own homes. This is beneficial because it can make the process of seeking medical advice easier for patients, and it can also help reduce the time patients spend in hospitals and GP offices. Additionally, using communication tools such as video conferencing can save time as health professionals do not need to travel between different locations to meet with patients
2. Support independent health lives
The plan wants to empower UK citizens to better manage and understand their health care. This includes:
- Improving access to NHS services through digital channels, most notably the NHS App and NHS.uk
- Scaling up digital health self-help, diagnostics, and therapies
3. Accelerate the adoption of proven tech
The government aims to improve the rate at which the NHS adopts and incorporates new technologies by:
- Creating a better system for tech research and development partnerships
- Buying tech that supports the needs of the NHS and the people and meets standards for interoperability, usability, clinical safety, cyber security, and sustainability
4. Align oversight with digital transformation the
While digital transformation is the main goal of the government’s new plan, it still needs to come with the proper regulations and oversight. They intend to:
- Examine existing regulatory methods.
- Enforce standards (especially tech and data standards).
- Support social care by investing at least £150 million in digital transformations for social care providers.
How will this new plan help or harm the healthcare sector’s skill shortage?
While the new plan triumphs creating a ‘new digital front door’ to NHS services, what happens if we get more people in the door only to be met with long waits in the ‘hallway’ due to serious understaffing?
Right now, the NHS is significantly understaffed. A new report found that the NHS is short over 50,000 nurses, midwives, and 12,000 doctors in England. A shortage which is only set to increase in the coming years.
However, the new plan may help to ease some of the NHS’s staffing issues, especially by shifting the burden of some administrative tasks off of workers and onto AI and other technologies.
The new plan also has the potential to bring new workers into the healthcare sector — workers who know how to work with new technologies such as AI.
Tech skills gap
However, there is already a tech skills gap in the NHS. A 2021 Coventry University study found that many NHS workers across all levels lack basic digital skills, and many of them are resistant to change and don’t want to adopt new technologies. Successfully implementing this digital plan will require significant digital education for new and existing staff.
Preparing the existing workforce
While the new digital workforce strategy has the potential to ease some of the staffing issues in the healthcare sector, it could also create a skills shortage if not executed properly. But there are ways to better prepare the existing workforce for these digital transformations.
Training senior managers
Senior management can often be the roadblock to adopting new technology. To help them better understand the need for digital transformation, they need to know how it will impact their workforce. They need to see how to use new technologies to ease administrative burdens and how these technologies can help improve patient care. Additionally, they need to be able to identify and address any potential skills shortages that may arise as a result of the move to digital.
Training front-line workers
Front-line workers in the healthcare sector need to be trained in digital technology because digital technology can help to improve patient care and make life easier for workers. Additionally, front-line workers are likely to be the first point of contact for patients seeking medical advice. So they must be able to use digital technologies effectively.
One way to help improve communication between frontline and backend staff is to provide communication training. This training can help to improve the way that frontline staff communicate with patients, and it can also help to improve the way that backend staff communicate with frontline staff.
Cyber security training
All workers in the healthcare sector should be provided with cyber security training. This training can help to ensure that patient data is protected and that workers are aware of the dangers of cyber attacks. This training can also help improve communication between frontline and backend staff.
Data analytics training
The new digital plan will likely massively increase the amount of data the NHS holds about patients. To best take advantage of this data, health and social care workers should be trained in data analytics. This type of training can help workers better understand how data is being gathered and how to use it to improve patient care.
Stay updated on healthcare recruitment news
The new UK government workforce strategy for healthcare has the potential to help with staffing shortages in the NHS, especially by shifting the burden of some administrative tasks off of workers and onto AI and other technologies. However, the NHS already has a tech skills gap, and many workers lack basic digital skills.
Time will tell if the new plan will help or harm skills shortages in the industry, but with the proper training, the new digital future of the NHS could be bright.
To keep up-to-date on all the latest healthcare recruitment news. Head over to the crooton blog to read about how to tackle carer recruitment challenges, how the NHS can improve minority representation, how to shake up your healthcare recruitment approach, and more!
And if you’d like help with health and social care recruitment, get in touch with crooton’s expert team.