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Leaked national tech workforce plan proposes local pay rises

Published on: 18 Mar 2024

The NHS’s new “digital workforce plan” is set to propose that employers be given the ability to make “extensive use” of local recruitment and retention incentives to ensure the service can compete for the most talented technology staff.

The proposal is made in a draft NHS England document entitled: Building a Digital, Data and Technology, and Informatics Workforce in Health and Social Care: 2023 to 2028, which has been seen by HSJ.

The document’s contents were originally meant to be included in last summer’s NHS long-term workforce plan, but were stripped out before publication, a decision that was described as “crazy” by senior tech figures.

A source close to the plan’s development told HSJ it was now “due to be published in the next few weeks” but admitted that further delays could not be ruled out.

Research by the consultancy firm HAYS, quoted in the DDaT plan, found that pay for an average technology role increased by 7 per cent between 2021 and 2022, with roles in cybersecurity, IT project management, and change management seeing above-average pay rises of more than 9 per cent. 

This was significantly above the 3 per cent pay uplift announced for staff on the Agenda for Change framework in 2021, which governs the pay of most digital, data and technology professionals.

The document states: “We want to work towards the situation whereby [the NHS] can compete to some degree with the wider economy for the DDaT professionals that we need in the NHS, with a focus on pay in ensuring this competitiveness.

“We will start with making sure that job roles set out in the [DDaT framework] are appropriately profiled, taking into account the skills and competencies needed for each role, through the NHS job evaluation scheme and benchmarked for the right Agenda for Change pay band.”

The draft plan explains: “We will also work with the appropriate NHS and government bodies to consider how recruitment and retention premia can be used to come to an understanding of how the pay system can support recruitment and retention.” Specifically, it says NHSE will “submit evidence to the NHS pay review body to consider the more extensive use of local recruitment and retention premia to attract and retain DDaT staff and the introduction of national RRP for this these professionals.

The NHS’s recruitment problems for digital roles are well-documented. NHSE analysis found that 86 per cent of surveyed trusts reported finding it “difficult or extremely difficult” to recruit DDaT professionals. Moreover, 60 per cent of respondents ranked “better salaries” as number one among top three reasons for what more was needed to address this.

The draft plan states: “Persistent and long-term shortages in the workforce are a real concern for the digital maturity ambitions of the NHS.”

However, the plan acknowledges that reviewing the remuneration of DDaT staff is “not a straightforward issue”.

It states: “A person’s salary forms part of the total reward package that also includes the NHS final salary pension scheme. For some individuals, pay is just one of the key factors when deciding on whether the join or remain in the NHS workforce, the others being, for example, having good job security or access to flexible working arrangements.

“Pay in the NHS is also a complex issue. Salaries for most DDaT staff in the NHS are bound up with employment terms and conditions within the Agenda for Change framework.” 

Leadership boot camps

As well, as tackling pay levels, the draft plan sets out 14 other action areas to grow the digital workforce. These include:

  • Increasing the percentage of chief information officers, and chief digital information officers, sitting on NHS and integrated care boards, from a baseline of 60 per cent;
  • Growing the national uptake of DDaT apprentices each year by 25 per cent from 2024 until 2028;
  • Launching a national campaign to attract new and diverse DDaT talent; and
  • Establishing a Professional Oversight Council to own the national governance structures and processes for the DDaT workforce in health and social care. 

The plan also stressses the need to develop digital leaders as they “have a vital role to play in setting the strategic direction for DDaT across the health and social care sectors”. It reveals that NHSE is “testing, with a view to scaling, a boot camp with mentoring” for new CDIOs who have been appointed to executive board-level positions.

The first of these “boot camps” was delivered in October last year, and there are provisional plans to offer all existing and new CDIOs the chance to complete one.

Competencies and training requirements are also being defined for various leadership roles, including for chief nursing information officers and chief clinical information officers.

Last year, NHSE research found fewer than one in 20 NHS trust boards have a CIO or CDIO with voting rights to “influence change”, while only 10 per cent of integrated care boards had a long-term digital workforce plan in place.

Many of the action areas in the draft plan feature deadline dates for their development which have passed or will do so in the very near future, meaning the implementation of the plan will be delayed beyond this schedule.

The full list of the plan’s ‘action areas’ appears at the end of the story.

The document concludes: “NHSE has committed £5.3m in a business case to accelerate the DDaT workforce and informatics capacity and capability and capability development agenda over the next two years, starting from April 2023 until March 2025…To ensure the money is being well spent, we will develop a detailed operational delivery plan.”

An NHSE spokesman said: “The NHS long-term workforce plan, published last year, sets out our ambitions for a workforce of digital, data, technology and informatics specialists to help transform the NHS and improve patient care.

“We will publish more details in the coming months.”

UPDATED, 13.38: This article has been updated to include a comment from NHSE