Three of the world’s top universities will provide virtual masterclasses in leadership and digital as part of a comprehensive programme to provide NHS staff with the right skills to drive digital innovation.

The NHS Digital Academy led by Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation in partnership with Harvard Medical School and The University of Edinburgh will open for applications in September.

The Academy is part of the NHS’ wider technology plan to simplify access to care online or otherwise, ensure our hospitals are taking advantage of improvements in digital technology and increasing the skills of our staff so we can seamlessly adopt new technology and systems to improve patient care.

It will support the existing work underway via the Building a Digital Ready Workforce (BDRW) National Information Board (NIB) programme, delivered in partnership by NHS Digital, Health Education England, NHS England; and will be the first time there is a national structured development programme in change management/leadership and clinical informatics.

A virtual organisation, the Academy will provide expertise for clinicians and health managers who are delivering an ambitious programme of digital innovation in the NHS, including how to use new technology to improve patient care and experience; and to deliver efficiencies.

Rachel Dunscombe, Director of Digital for Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, a partner in the initiative, has been appointed the Academy’s Chief Executive.

It is currently anticipated that 300 candidates will pass through the NHS Digital Academy, each spending up to 12 months studying part-time.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “If the NHS is going to have world-class IT systems we need a major programme to spread global best practice – and this links three of the best universities in the world to do just that.

“The Academy will ensure the next generation of NHS leaders is well equipped with the most exciting innovations that deliver the best care available to patients everywhere.”

Matthew Swindells, National Director of Operations and Information at NHS England, said: “We want the NHS to be a world leader in the use of digital technology helping to drive improvements in patient care and to make our organisations more efficient.

“This pioneering academy will provide healthcare leaders with the right skills to tackle some of the most challenging problems facing the NHS.”

Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham, Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial, said: “We want to build a vibrant, self-sustaining community of inspired leaders who will drive NHS digital transformation. We have an unrivalled record of using academic rigour to translate ground-breaking research into digital health solutions and we have assembled a world-class team to develop the NHS Digital Academy.

“Our operational team and faculty are already in place and we have a clear plan for the launch. We will ensure participants graduate with an international outlook and network.”

Dr Harpreet Sood, Associate Chief Clinical Information Officer at NHS England and Lead on NHS Digital Academy, said: “Investing in technology is important but equally important is investing in the people tasked with making it work for clinicians and for patients.

“This is why we are investing in developing a globally recognised Digital Academy because we want the NHS modernisation to be led by world class leaders.”

Rachel Dunscombe, CEO of the Academy and Director of Digital for Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This is an amazing opportunity for us to act as a catalyst for the CIOs and CCIOs equipping them with the skills and leadership to safely digitise the NHS.

“I am delighted to be part of the Digital Academy and feel privileged to be able to be at the helm of accelerating the digital health profession. This unique collaboration of partners will provide the system leadership needs highlighted by the Wachter review.”

The Academy was borne out of Professor Wachter’s review of IT in the NHS which highlighted the need to:

  • Develop a workforce of trained ‘clinician-informaticists’ at Trusts, and give them appropriate resources and authority
  • Strengthen and grow the CCIO field, others trained in clinical care and informatics, and health IT professionals more generally

Professor Wachter’s report also observed that there was “a lack of professionals – namely CCIOs and CIOs – that can drive forward the transformation agenda enabled by informatics and technology.”

The NHS Digital Academy will be seeking accreditation from the Federation of Informatics Professionals (Fed-IP) and the Faculty of Clinical Informatics (FCI).