Misconceptions stop IT contractors filling NHS demand

Thursday 18 July 2013

Many IT contractors have frequently looked to the NHS as a source of future assignments, but it seems that those who have not worked for the health service are being put off from bidding for contracts by some common misconceptions.

Research carried out by Computerworld UK and specialist recruitment firm Max20 found that nearly six out of ten IT professionals who had not worked for the NHS thought they would not be considered because they did not have experience in the health service. Even so, this does not mean they lack interest in the sector. In fact, as many as 95 per cent of IT staff without NHS experience said that they would actually be interested in applying for health service roles if they believed it was opening up to workers with more commercial backgrounds.

Nevertheless, it appears that this perceived barrier to entry is nothing but a misconception - more than 70 per cent of IT professionals within the NHS said they welcomed recruits with commercial experience. Indeed, 80 per cent said they enjoyed working with staff who have experience of alternative ways of working, fresh ideas and a different outlook in general. Although many respondents commented that a lack of knowledge of the health service could cause problems for those with commercial backgrounds, it was generally accepted that the NHS needs to look again at its recruitment processes to attract more such workers.

Contractors in the IT industry are perfectly placed to offer the variety so valued by a growing contingent of the NHS. Because of the wide variety of clients they work with, which may or may not include public sector organisations, they have a wealth of experience of different environments, approaches and points of view which can add real value to an NHS department.

Nearly a third of NHS IT staff said that the wide-scale restructuring and reform taking place in the health service is likely to generate a more commercial outlook. In turn, this will create the need for IT projects to be carried out faster and more efficiently - another respect in which hiring contractors could be an advantage.

Don Tomlinson, managing director at Max20, says that the NHS and non-NHS IT communities have much to learn about each other.

“There is a lack of communication and direct experience and so clichés and inaccurate views still persist,” he explains.

“I think this will change, perhaps slower than we would want, as the NHS enters a period of dramatic change that is in large part being driven by IT professionals.”

Speaking to Computerworld UK John Rayner, director of The Health Informatics Service, said that in principle it should make a difference whether an IT professional has experience in healthcare so long as they have the right technical skills. Still, he explains, it is important to get a sense of the context in which technology is being used and everybody who works for the NHS in any function needs at least a basic understanding of how healthcare is provided.

“I think anybody who comes from the commercial sector, with IT skills, can learn the health side of it very quickly,” he notes. “I don’t agree with the hypothesis that the only IT people who are attracted to the NHS are those with an NHS background.”

By Victoria McDonnell

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