NHS IT workers defect as public sector cuts bite

Doctor using a computer

Budget cuts and operational changes are taking their toll on NHS IT departments, as long-term projects get shelved and staff leave to take up similar positions in the private sector.

According to research by IT provider 2e2, which featured responses from 100 NHS IT directors, 87 per cent said they felt under pressure to cut costs and help the Government achieve its aim of slashing 20 billion from the health service's budget by 2015.

To make this happen, it is estimated each NHS IT department will need to make savings of around 10 per cent this year, and then 12 per cent for each subsequent year until 2015.

London trusts, in particular, seem to find it hard to retain specialist skills.

Speaking to IT Pro, Adam Kamruddin, head of healthcare at 2e2, said these cuts, coupled with the breakdown of the National Programme for IT, is making life difficult for many NHS IT departments.

"Many trusts are investing in experts to help guide them through the IT procurement process because, when the National Programme was in place, it wasn't something they needed to be as concerned with," he explained.

"It is especially difficult for those that didn't have a self-functioning IT organisation in place to suddenly be in a position where they have to evaluate technologies and suppliers themselves."

This has led to a marked rise in the number of NHS IT departments that use outsourcers. This may have also prompted more public sector IT workers to seek employment in the private sector.

"Geography plays a part. London trusts, in particular, seem to find it hard to retain specialist skills," explained Kamruddin.

"It is a real challenge because of the job opportunities being offered by the private sector."

This is a view shared by former NHS IT director, Judy Aldred, who is now the managing director of NHS data analytics firm SSentif.

"We get sales calls from recruitment companies offering staff, which is nothing new, but we do tend to get calls promoting candidates with specific NHS experience," she told IT Pro.

"We have also noted a growing number of CVs being sent directly to us on spec from former NHS staff, and have even had enquiries from current staff when we are there on site visits."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.