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Developing our workforce to respond to demand

Download the full Fit for 2020 - Report from the NHS Digital Capability Review

Organisation size
Skill mix
Sourcing and hiring approach
Location strategy

Our current approach to planning mostly reflects 'old' ways of sourcing and managing programmes, using a limited number of resourcing channels. This is in part a consequence of Government policy which aims to reduce the reliance on contingent labour, which is currently 3% of our workforce. It also reflects the programme and portfolio structures that preceded our current operating model.

In April 2016, we introduced a new way of working based on a professional services operating model. We wanted to ensure we can respond flexibly to the multiple and changing requirements across our services and functions, and also provide more tailored professional and personal development opportunities to our staff. This is informed by an extensive body of research that demonstrates that organisational forms are shifting from hierarchical models of structure and leadership behaviours to more inclusive and innovative styles. This is especially true of IT and digital organisations.

Each member of our staff is attached to a professional group and a career manager for personal and career development purposes. They will be working on one or more assignments, each with their own set of requirements to be completed over an agreed timescale.

The consequence of this is to introduce much greater flexibility to deploy our staff according to the priorities of our customers and stakeholders.

Organisation size

Although the Personalised Health and Care 2020 portfolio represents a significant increase in the role and functions of NHS Digital, we do not think it is desirable to increase the number of full time employees of NHS Digital substantially. We need a core capability 'in-house' for each of our professional pools, but do not see the need to flex this indefinitely.

We have 2700 staff currently and our projections for the resources required to deliver Personalised Health and Care 2020 are significantly higher than this. Although we do anticipate some growth during 2017/18 in NHS Digital full time employees, we do not expect the number of full time employees to exceed 3000 between now and 2020. This has profound implications on our sourcing strategy to fulfil the delivery requirements for Personalised Health and Care 2020, as described below.

Skill mix

We expect that the skill mix and profile across our professional groups will change. The transformation of our information and analytics functions will have significant implications for the skills and capacity we require. The need to develop patient-facing digital services will demand more digital skills. We will also be investing to strengthen some of our corporate functions, such as the assurance and risk, portfolio and commercial teams.

It is also possible that the impact of these changes may require us to disinvest in certain functions. Where there is a need to reduce headcount, NHS Digital has the option of mutually agreed resignation (MARS) or redundancy schemes. We will work closely with our staff and our national partners, especially the Department of Health, to handle these options sensitively and without compromising delivery commitments.

Sourcing and hiring approach

The combination of our belief that we should keep the size of NHS Digital's full time workforce below 3000 people and the need for more headcount to deliver Personalised Health and Care 2020 means that we need a new approach to sourcing the labour we need. We intend to implement a sourcing strategy at Domain level - looking much more for development partners to deliver defined capability - and map this onto our planning for people by profession.

We have done a systematic assessment of the demand requirements against each of our professional pools to ensure we have a targeted plan for recruiting and sourcing the skills we need. This has confirmed the importance of continuous development of the professional pools. Very few of our professional groups will remain unchanged by the increased role of NHS Digital. Many are critical to our ability to deliver our commitments. A summary of this assessment is included in Appendix 2.

We will continue to hire people into the organisation with substantial experience and have done this recently for example to boost our commercial capability. Longer term, however, we believe we need to focus much more on graduate and apprentice hires. We have recently increased the number of hires of both-we have set up a graduate academy and extended the number of universities we work with-with huge success.

All of this requires a more coherent organisation-wide sourcing strategy coupled with a much stronger ability to forecast demand and source the supply of the skills and capacity we require, at both a strategic and operational level. We need to have different ways of sourcing through direct recruitment, indirectly through contracts, and through new strategic partnering arrangements which may include outsourcing or offshoring contracts for certain types of service.

The new workforce planning function that we are designing to achieve this will have the following key characteristics:

  • flexible sourcing frameworks and options, including innovative partnering arrangements
  • a values-based approach centred on customer focus and responsiveness
  • respect for our staff and the skills they bring, using recruitment, reward and retention packages that are flexible and offer financial and nonfinancial incentives that are attractive to current and prospective employees
  • informed by labour market intelligence
  • underpinned by accurate and timely management information

It needs to respond to the following factors:

  • a vibrant and growing IT and digital skills market, especially in Leeds and London
  • the attractiveness of NHS Digital as an 'employer of choice'
  • our need for a wide range of skills, many of which are niche and in demand
  • a decreasing pool of contractors willing to work in the public sector
  • the as yet unknown impact of the UK not being an EU member state, on the availability of foreign workers

Location strategy

Most of our staff are based in 8 locations shown on the map.


These locations fall into two categories currently:

  1. Those locations where a defined set of work is carried out and complete teams are based there. These are Leeds, London, Southport and Exeter.
  2. Locations where people are for historic reasons, but they do not house a recognisable team or set of teams. These are Redditch, Washington, Reading and Southampton.

Whilst we have analysed in some detail the skills we require in the future and considered our sourcing and hiring approach, we do not yet know whether we need all of the locations above, nor whether we should locate some of the new capabilities we require in one or more of these locations.

What we will do:

  • Set up a Workforce Planning Centre of Expertise.

  • Embed the principles of alternative sourcing in the 'build/buy' decision process at domain and programme level.

  • Extend our graduate recruitment and apprentice schemes starting in 2017/18 with the ultimate aim of accommodating the vast majority of our future hiring.

  • Adopt advanced planning models to predict impacts of changing trends on longer term supply/demand management of skills across all our professional groups

  • Design and implement talent interventions for critical workforce capabilities - to include in Talent Management Strategy refresh.

  • Digitise all our recruitment processes.

  • Produce a new location strategy for NHS Digital.

  • Develop and implement a considerate and respectful way of handling employees who become under-utilised as a result of Personalised Health and Care 2020.

Last edited: 10 March 2020 10:52 am