NHS England is turning to the private sector to fund training for new data and analytics experts in a bid to boost the workforce and bridge a growing skills gap.
Senior tech leaders within the NHS have identified the procurement process for the high-profile federated data platform contract as a potential opportunity to acquire a funding stream.
As part of the tender process for public body contracts, prospective suppliers are required to demonstrate how they provide social value. Speaking at HSJ’s Data and Analytics Forum in London this week, NHS England’s chief data and analytics officer Ming Tang said she “would like that social corporate responsibility contribution to benefit the NHS”.
Ms Tang said she was “playing around with” the idea of working with potential suppliers to set up a fund which would be used to provide training and apprenticeships for new data and analytics specialists as well as retraining for current NHS employees.
She acknowledged that the NHS “can’t compete” with the private sector – which often offers higher wages and greater opportunities for professional development – and stressed that it needed to “invest” in education and training to cultivate its own data and analytics workforce.
In addition to training, the proposed academy would work with schools and young people to create a “pipeline” of future specialists within the health service through apprenticeships and job placements.
Ming Tang said: “The most important thing for workforce is that they understand the context in which data is used and they can’t do that in isolation, so part of the scheme needs to be that they go out into the service and understand how that data is being used, how clinicians interact with it, how operations teams interact with it. That will then develop analysts to create lots more value.”
As of 2022, there were around 13,000 data analysts or engineers working across the health service, but a report from Health Education England estimated that a further 12,000 would be needed by 2030 to meet growing demand.
Earlier this week, the Faculty of Clinical Informatics – which provides training and continuing professional development to data analysts in the health system – warned that it would no longer be able to offer training without urgent central funding, which it said was being held up in government.
Ben Goldacre, in his 2022 review of how data is used in the health system, recommended that there is “a need for adequate core training on the purpose and importance” of clinical informatics, which includes data analytics.
He suggested that organisations such as the FCI are “small and funded by members” which “limits [their] impact”, and that it is “unrealistic to expect individuals to resource the development of professional structures to meet national strategic needs”.
A source from the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts (AphA), told HSJ it was “great to see that NHSE are trying to fund the continued development and education of analysts”, but raised concerns about doing so through the private sector.
The source said: “Rarely does this funding come without some ties or restrictions, often related to [organisations] paying for people to learn on their proprietary tools rather than open source tools.
“If they want to invest in analysts the NHS should invest itself using groups like NHSR, PyCom and AphA that can provide training, networks and insights to where skill gaps may be, as highlighted in the Goldacre review, rather than having to shake the bucket at people with vested interests.”