Members of the Digital Health Networks have sent an open letter to Matthew Gould and Dr Simon Eccles, CEO and deputy CEO of NHSX, on the steps urgently needed to get chief clinical information officers (CCIOs) and chief information officers (CIO) appointed to NHS boards.

The NHS Long Term Plan called for every local NHS organisation to appoint either a CCIO or CIO to their board to help accelerate digitisation efforts and ensure clinical leadership and buy-in.

The Networks, the independent communities representing NHS CCIOs and CIOs, said in an open letter, signed by the elected chairmen, James Reed and Adrian Byrne, that achieving the goal will require significant new investment in current education programmes such as the NHS Digital Academy and new programmes.

“We believe a concerted programme of support and investment is therefore now required to develop senior NHS CCIO and CIOs who can provide board-level digital leadership,” states the letter, which estimate less than 10% of NHS organisations are yet to make such an appointment to the board.

The letter notes that the 2016 report from the National Advisory Group on Health Information Technology in England, led by Dr Robert Wachter, recommended significant investment (1% of the then £4.2 billion allocated to digitisation) in developing “a workforce of trained clinical informaticists at trusts and giving them appropriate resources and authority”.

“The NHS has not yet invested at close to the level recommended by the Wachter Review.  The establishment of the NHS Digital Academy, and its provision of post-graduate diploma training for 300 staff over three years, has been a very welcome development but is not sufficient of itself,” the letter adds.

It recommends a six-point plan of investment in the education and professional accreditation.

As a first step, it calls on the NHSX CEO, Matthew Gould, “to write to all trusts to all NHS board chairs asking what their plans are to appoint a CCIO/CIO to their board and what support they require”.

A four pronged investment in education of CCIOs and CIOs is then recommended based on: establishing a new Digital Leadership for Board members programme; expanding current NHS Digital Academy places; developing a new dedicated Nye Bevan digital programme within the NHS Leadership Academy; and to fund new places on current business school programmes to expose NHS digital leaders to a wider breadth of sectors and expertise.

Finally, the open letter calls on NHSX to work with agencies to “mandate accreditation of CCIOs/CIOs to a minimum professional certification”.

“We believe the following steps are required to ensure that the presence of high calibre CCIOs and CIOs on every NHS board becomes a reality over the next 27 months,” the letter states.

“We recognise that this is a significant package of investment in leadership cadre but feel this is essential to achieve the step-change in clinical informatics leadership envisaged by Wachter and now the Long Term Plan.