A new contract to train NHS digital leaders has been awarded to current providers Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh.

The contract for the NHS Digital Academy covers the fourth year of the programme and beyond, with 100 students to be selected for the 2021 intake that begins in September.

Work will also begin on develop a series of online training courses, including some material from the NHS Digital Academy course, to be offered to a much wider range of NHS staff.

Health Education England (HEE), which commissioned the flagship education programme, said the new contract will see the course material become more modular and available online to a wider range of learners. The new contract, according to HEE, is worth around £1.75million per year.

Additional measures are also promised to make sure that the selection process becomes “more inclusive and transparent” including a new double bind application procedure to reduce bias and provide additional support to underrepresented groups.

HEE says it has also changed the entry criteria to ensure that students will be able to apply their new skills back in the health service.

“Applicants must be operating within a context and in a role where they are required to drive and implement practical digital transformational change within their organisation or system,” HEE said.

The organisation is hoping to open online applications on 1 April.

“The specification was future-proofed to support our aspirations to expand the NHS Digital Academy brand and to enable us to reuse content for a wider audience,” it added.

The NHS Digital Academy will remain the ‘flagship’ training programme for NHS digital leaders but HEE says it will additionally develop training support and modules for the much wider group of all professionals at many different levels of seniority and career development.

“We know however that an annual cohort of 100 delegates is only a small part of a large digital workforce and we have significant work to do in order to secure our pipeline of future leaders, as well as those already in very senior roles,” the agency said.

In its ‘future vision’ HEE says, “we want to re-use the learning as much as possible to create uplift in digital knowledge for the whole workforce”, this is described as including bite-sized modules and certificates and new potential programmes, but development remains at an early stage.

An HEE spokesperson told Digital Health News: “The online certificates will be open access, use storytelling, and reduce silos through increasing an individual’s baseline knowledge of other teams and areas of work. We think this will include foundation and practitioner certificates.”

They added: “We will have some early discovery work on the online certificates complete within 20/21 which will feed into our wider online learning development offer.”

The NHS Digital Academy is a 12-month, part-time post-graduate diploma programme that provides learning for 100 digital change leaders from around health and care in England leaders per year.

Launched following recommendations on the need to invest in skills in the 2017 Wachter review into NHS IT, the programme has trained 300 students over the past 3 years, through a mix of residential and remote learning.

One third of candidates have gone on to undertake a self-funded follow-up masters programme with Imperial.