The outgoing CEO at NHS Digital Simon Bolton has told the Health and Social Care Committee that recruiting people and getting the right digital skills into the NHS is his “biggest challenge”.

Speaking at an oral evidence session in the Palace of Westminster last week as part of an ongoing inquiry into digital transformation in the NHS, Bolton explained how big a recruitment challenge the NHS face as wages rise in the private sector of the technology market.

He said: “My biggest challenge that I live with every day is making sure that we’ve got the right people with the right skills to help us in this space.

“At the moment yes absolutely we have the skills to develop and progress the NHS App, I think that’s demonstrated by the work we’ve done in the recent weeks and months and we’ve got planned for the near future.”

Looking ahead though he said the challenge was only growing. “But the technology market is incredibly difficult in terms of skills, we’ve seen huge inflation in wages in the private sector and we’re competing in that space for talent. Of course, some people will join us because they believe in the purpose, but we can’t just rely on that.

He added: “I do think in the future, we are going to have to think very carefully about how we can attract the best digital talent into the NHS, so that we are at least to some degree competitive with external markets, otherwise we won’t be able to deliver the kinds of capabilities that we need to without relying on third party suppliers,” he added.

Bolton announced in November that he will not remain as part of NHS England once the organisation merges with NHS Digital, a merger he told the Health and Social Care Committee is “going very well”.

He was speaking at the session sat alongside Dr Tim Ferris, national director of transformation at NHS England, Jackie Gray, executive director for privacy, transparency, ethics and legal at NHS Digital, and Kathy Hall, director for digital transformation and head of the joint DHSC/NHSE Digital Policy Unit at NHS England.

Dr Ferris, the director of transformation at NHS England, and lead on digital, explained the importance of putting patient preferences first. He warned that a failure to do so could risk worsening health inequalities.

As a example of digital transformation Dr Ferris highlighted that over two million patients now have access to their GP records via the NHS App.

A second session immediately followed as part of the inquiry into digital transformation in the NHS, with a panel consisting of Liz Ashall-Payne, CEO at ORCHA, David Ramsden, chief executive officer at Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and Chris Askew, CEO at Diabetes UK.