At this week’s E-Health Insider/Chamberlain Dunn Associates conference ‘The NHS IT Revolution: What about the people?’ delegates called for urgent action to help provide training in trusts where up to 40% of staff lack basic computer skills.

With the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) due to begin delivery this June, one of the major topics debated at yesterday’s conference was the gulf between the official position on the funding of training and the contrasting ground-level view of delegates.

Keynote speaker Gordon Hextall, chief operating officer, NPfIT, said that training for new applications is centrally funded within local service provider contracts. “IT training is part of contracts let and it’s centrally funded. But how you change processes is one for trusts.”

This position though was at odds with that set out by Martin Bell, director of IM&T, North Bristol NHS Trust, who said: “There is no training in the contract, it’s for training the trainers.”  The idea is that once a local service provider has trained initial trainers in a trust they will then ‘cascade’ skills through the organisation.

During a lively question and answer session following Hextall’s presentation it became clear that those responsible for local training believe trusts will have to find funds both to train staff using new applications and to get many staff up to basic levels of IT competency. 

Bell said that within his trust there was a huge challenge in just providing basic IT skills to all members of staff.  “I’ve got 8,500 people in my trust and only 2,500 with a PC.  Some have never used a PC.”

This was backed by a member of the audience responsible for workforce development. “Forty per cent of our workforce do not have basic IT skills; there is a lack of link up between workforce development directorates and NPfIT.” She added that there was an urgent need for funding to help staff acquire basic IT skills before they could be trained on new clinical applications.

Tina White, education and training needs manager, Lincolnshire PCT, said that limited IT training meant that “people tend to use computers, like driving a car with the handbrake on and in first gear.”

Pressed on the question of funding, Hextall said: “Funding for training is within the contracts, I’m absolutely clear on that.  E-booking and NHS Care Records Service are already running training.”

Di Millen, head of informatics with the NHS Information Authority, stressed that the money was available to get the European Computer Driving Licence in place as the basic standard, and that unpublished research “suggests it is providing savings in time of up to half an hour a day.”

Hextall stressed that training – like the rest of the programme – would be delivered in a phases.  “It’s going to be a staged roll-out, taking place gradually over time.”

More reports from the conference next week