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NHS England lays out future of digital technology in health education

23 May 2023

Digital technology has transformed health and care education – and it is vital that this progress continues to equip generations of learners with the right skills, a new report by NHS England has found.  

The review looks at the current state of digital technology and skills in undergraduate and pre-registration health and care education and lays out a series of recommendations.

It examines how digital technologies are being used in learning – and the technical and specialist skills required by teaching staff now and in the future.

Innovations such as virtual reality and robotics offer the chance to practice skills outside of clinical settings, while online learning platforms and digital libraries have streamlined the learning process.

Key findings include:

  • Digital technology increases flexibility, accessibility and collaboration but can potentially reduce engagement – and it is not always easy for everyone to access resources equally.
  • Using digital technology to simulate ‘safe’ practice is enriching experiences and developing competencies but risks dehumanising practice.
  • The right systems, support and training need to be in place to make the most of technology – and many people see themselves as digitally ‘self-taught’, which means levels of skills vary.

The review included an online survey, case studies and focus groups to ensure the views of students and staff at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are represented.

Recommendations for HEIs, NHS England, providers, regulators and other organisations include:

  • Drawing up a digital education strategy to embed technology into health and care education for generations to come.
  • Ensuring a range of technology is available for learners, with ‘digital specialist’ roles to support its application.
  • Providing reliable access to the appropriate equipment and connectivity for students and staff, which could include loaning laptops and iPads.
  • Developing more ways to encourage innovation and develop opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, such as ‘innovation cafes’, mentorships, workshops etc.
  • Improving overall digital literacy and ensuring it matches the pace of digital innovation in the health and care sector – including carrying out assessments of students’ skills to ensure support is targeted in the right areas.
  • Carrying out analysis of training needs to better understand the gap between the skills and competencies required and whether the current digital training provision can support this.

Patrick Mitchell, Director of Innovation, Digital and Transformation at NHS England, said:

“Technological advancements have resulted in seismic shifts in how we live, work, communicate and learn. But in the NHS, we cannot take this progress for granted, so it is vital that we continue to ask whether we are doing enough to equip learners for a career in a health and care system where digital technology plays such a key role.  

“This review not only gives an important insight into the role digital technology currently plays in health and social care education, it provides a rounded view of what can be done in every part of the system to capitalise on the great leaps already taken – taking into account the views of learners and educators from across the country who are experiencing this every day.”

Quotes from members of the Blended Learning Ministerial Roundtable - the expert advisory group with oversight of the production of the report:

Chris Low, Chief Executive Officer, Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, said:

“This impressive report offers important insights into health and care education. Its findings and recommendations validate the intensive approach that NHS England have taken in creating a rich, rounded, and reliable picture of the current state of affairs across educational institutions. It captures the very real challenge of transforming educational provision which echoes that facing the health and care system itself.”

Professor Alistair Fitt, Vice-Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University, said:

"The use of optimal digital teaching resources in FE and HE healthcare education has become a huge talking point since the Covid-19 pandemic. This report is a mine of useful and relevant information which should be read by anybody who is interested in using digital resources in their education.”

State of the Nation: The Current Status of Digital Technology and Skills in Undergraduate and Pre-Registration Health and Care Education can be found here.