According to a report published by Health Education England (HEE), digital technologies will play a vital role in supporting the NHS workforce so that it can cope with future demands on the system.

Titled ‘Harnessing digital technologies for workforce development, education and training: an overview’, the report, published late last year, looks in detail at ensuring that the health and care workforce is digitally ready for the future.

It makes the point that as demand for the NHS and social care workforce continues to grow over the next decade, maximising digital technologies will allow for the transformation of workforce planning and supply, education and training, clinical decision-making and deliver personalised healthcare services.

The report examines how digital technology is being used to develop a continuous learning environment, enabling new ways of working and highlights how improved technology can help health and care services to be organised and delivered more efficiently.

Patrick Mitchell, director of innovation, digital and transformation at HEE, said: “This report highlights how HEE’s approach to using current and emerging innovative technologies in educating and training future and current health professionals and the development of strong digital capabilities will help to deliver quality and safe 21st century care.

“A great deal has been achieved in a relatively short period of time and shows the immense benefits the use of digital technologies have in health and care services.”

HEE recommend the following in the report:

  • Delivering workforce provision, education and training – NHS staff and learners facing new public health challenges such as Covid-19 need to act quickly and learn to adapt as the situation changes, including learning about health risks.

  • Implementing digital tools and practices to support the NHS to manage workforce transformation, planning and lifelong learning – healthcare professionals must undertake life-long learning. As digital and AI technologies transform work, there is an opportunity to use digital tools to enhance lifelong learning and access to knowledge.

  • Mobilising evidence and knowledge – Digital skills and infrastructure are critical to enable the use of reliable evidence and knowledge to underpin high-quality healthcare.

  • Creating learning platforms, curricula and ecosystems to widen access to education and training – digital learning platforms are disrupting traditional education and training models. A digital platform approach means each learner has equitable access to high quality products to help them through their education experience, irrespective of time and place.

  • Evolution of culture as a key enabler of digital transformation – the increasing use of digital enablers requires a shift in mindset, behaviour and a requirement for lifelong learning. It also needs collaboration across systems to create an environment where digital solutions can flourish.

HEE are undertaking a rich portfolio of work to help the NHS workforce now and in the future. In the workforce redesign space, they are focussing on the use, recording and measurement of skills and capabilities to help organisations leverage their workforce by optimising the skills they have available to them.

It will also support collaboration with the education sector to produce the news skills required to fill gaps.

HEE’s report expands on the legacy of the landmark Topol Review, published in February 2019 and led by digital leader, cardiologist and geneticist Professor Eric Topol, which concluded that the NHS must “focus on building a digital ready workforce”.