A consortium led by Imperial College, Edinburgh University and Salford Royal NHS FT which includes links with Harvard University, has won a £4 million contract to deliver the new virtual NHS Digital Academy over the next three years.

Imperial and Edinburgh were picked ahead of a joint bid by University College London and Manchester University.  The Imperial/Edinburgh bid has been led by former Labour health minister Lord Ara Darzi.

The delivery partners will be Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation, Salford Royal NHS Foundation trust, the University of Edinburgh and Harvard Medical School on the NHS Digital Academy.

Rachel Dunscombe, chief information officer (CIO) of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and vice chair of the Health CIO Network, will be the chief executive of the new NHS Digital Academy.  She will hold this role on a part-time basis, in addition to her CIO role at Salford.

The prestigious new virtual NHS Digital Academy is intended to train 300 NHS digital leaders over the next three years, 12-months of part-time study.

Imperial will be the southern hub, with Salford Royal the northern hub of the new, virtual academy, established to develop the talents of hundreds of the NHS’s digital leaders.

The training, which will be delivered through a combination of online and residential learning, will be targeted at NHS CCIOs and CIOs and equivalent roles.  The initial priority will be digital leaders from the 16 hospital global digital exemplars (GDEs) and seven mental health GDEs.

Recruitment for the first cohort has already begun.  Originally due to have begun in September the delivery timetable has however slipped, and the first residential elements are now due to be delivered starting in 2018.

The NHS Digital Academy was a key recommendation of the 2016 Wachter review of technology in the NHS which called for investment in a workforce of trained CCIOs, ‘clinician-informaticists’ and to develop health IT professionals. 

The Wachter Review of NHS IT recommended that investment in clinical informatics training must be significantly stepped up: “There must be a major effort to place well-qualified clinicians with advanced informatics training in every trust. The Advisory Group estimates that an average sized trust needs at least five such individuals on staff.”

Dunscombe said: “I am so incredibly excited about the Academy and absolutely honoured to be leading it. I passionately believe that to make the improvements in patient care that we are striving towards, we need to safely digitise the NHS.”

She added: “Of course to do this, we need people with the digital skills and knowledge to drive forward this change management for transformation and the Academy will ensure we have this leadership at NHS organisations across the country.”