In 2020, NHS England & Improvement (NHSE&I) outlined its expectations for the NHS to reach a core level of digitisation by 2024. However, as 2024 unfolds, GlobalData research reveals that 43 per cent of UK healthcare professionals believe a lack of specialised skills and talents is threatening the sector’s digital evolution.

In this article, Stacey Hayes-Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University, delves into the transformative impact of digitisation and technological advancements on UK healthcare, exploring the skills needed to futureproof the sector’s talent.

Embracing technological transformation in healthcare

The introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation has triggered concerns regarding job security across many industries, including healthcare. Yet, amid these uncertainties, initiatives like the NHS Long Term Workplace Plan have maintained a positive outlook, advocating for seamless integration of the technology within healthcare to boost care quality, productivity and efficiency.

Stacey Hayes-Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships, Arden University

Technological integration is set to revolutionise various aspects of UK healthcare delivery – from advancing patient consultations and streamlining administrative processes, to potentially harnessing chatbots for efficiency and delving into advanced areas, like genomic editing and AI-driven diagnostics.

Studies reveal that more than 70 per cent of clinicians’ time is consumed by administrative tasks, underscoring the potential for automation to free up valuable time, ensuring patients receive timely and attentive care.

Digital transformation holds the promise of optimising patient data without compromising care quality, accelerating diagnosis and treatment, and ultimately, enhancing patient outcomes.

Ensuring digital literacy

The journey towards a digitally empowered healthcare network demands a shift in the skills of its workforce. The Topol Review reveals that, by 2040, 90 per cent of NHS roles will require some element of digital skills, and that all staff will need to be able to navigate a data-rich healthcare environment. Healthcare organisations have a critical role to play in futureproofing the skillsets of the sector’s workforce in readiness for this shift. A key part of this will be ensuring accessible training avenues to boost digital literacy and support practitioners in leveraging technology to strengthen patient care.

The evolving skills landscape

The transformative potential of technology in healthcare exceeds simple task computerisation and the streamlining of administrative processes. While automation does offer efficiencies in repetitive tasks, the bottom line of its influence lies in streamlining patient care and the touchpoints throughout diagnosis and treatment.

Despite its potential to revolutionise ways of working in healthcare, the Office for National Statistics reveals how roles in the sector are among those at the lowest risk of automation. This is because many of these roles require ‘human’ traits and competencies that technology currently struggles to replicate: critical thinking, communication skills and emotional intelligence.

To work effectively alongside new technology, healthcare professionals need to be able to weigh up the risks and benefits of different outcomes, approaches and solutions, as well as tap into their emotional intelligence to improve the patient’s journey. These are skills that can be honed over time, through experience and industry training.

Unlocking the full potential of digital medicine

Being able to unlock digital medicine’s full potential centres on the complete digitisation and integration of health and care records. With the introduction of integrated care systems comes a heightened demand for managers who are highly-trained and experienced in navigating digital healthcare environments. This change opens a range of career opportunities, spanning leadership and management roles across public, private and third-party sectors, underscoring the importance of adopting a digitally savvy workforce to navigate the evolving healthcare landscape.

To address the skills gaps effectively, greater collaboration between academia and industry, alongside initiatives to attract global technical talent, through new degree apprenticeships and Masters schemes, for example, is essential. Healthcare organisations can utilise apprenticeship degrees as a means both for widening access to senior positions and closing the skills gap among the existing workforce, as well as attracting and retaining new talent – two benefits that will become increasingly important as the sector’s digital transformation progresses.

It’s also important that organisations nurture a culture of continuous learning, supported by accredited CPD modules and flexible training pathways, to foster a dynamic workforce adept at navigating the digital frontier.

Empowering existing talent

As healthcare organisations continue to navigate digitisation, it’s also important to leverage the expertise and skills within the existing workforce. Empowering these workers with digital skills enhances their capacity to spearhead digitisation initiatives, and harnessing their fundamental understanding of their field in healthcare will drive transformative change. Upskilling initiatives tailored to the unique demands of the healthcare sector foster a cooperative synergy between digital innovation and sector expertise, pushing healthcare into an era of extraordinary transformation.

In principle, futureproofing the healthcare sector demands a combined effort to cultivate a digitally empowered workforce capable of using technology to expand and enhance patient care. By embracing a holistic approach to workforce development, underpinned by collaborative partnerships and targeted upskilling initiatives, healthcare organisations can navigate and move forward with confidence in technology, self-assured to understand the transformative potential and advancing patient care delivery.