Healthcare developments open up job opportunities

June 2006

Stethoscope on a laptopVideo programmers, solutions architects and trainers are just some of the many IT-related roles on offer in the healthcare sector.

The huge programme to get the health service digitized is creating a large number of job opportunities in both the NHS and its suppliers, according to presenters at a BCS-Equalitec workshop, which was aiming to get women returning to work or looking at career changes.

'The National Programme for NHS IT (NPfIT) is the biggest non-military IT programme in the world,' said Sheila Bullas who is implementing NPfIT at an NHS trust. She gave one of several presentations during the workshop, which was the second of two BCS-Equalitec pilots. They formed part of Equalitec's and BCS Womens Forum’s remit to increase the number of women in IT, electronics and communications jobs.

Sheila acknowledged that NPfIT had received some negative press, but pointed out that it was big and innovative, which inevitably resulted in some teething problems. The programme is currently three years into its 10-year duration.

A wide range of jobs are on offer

To deliver the programme, IT professionals are needed in a variety of roles, from innovation to training. On the innovation side, for example, the NHS is conducting research into genetics to help model how patients react to certain drugs.

The NPfIT is also leading to an increasing number of jobs in the NHS in business change roles to assist in installing the new systems.

Moreover, trainers will be needed to explain to NHS Trust staff how to use the systems. '800,000 will have to use the systems and 300,000 of them have not had exposure to modern-day data handling,' said Sheila.

Suppliers also need a range of IT experts

'Fujitsu employs a large number of solutions architects (in the healthcare arena),' said Lindsey Harris, who is the overall solution strategist for the company’s healthcare business.

'This is because it is a services organization, a systems integrator with products from different suppliers. It works with Cerner, GE, and Tata Consultancy on services that it supplies to the NHS.'

Sony's work in digital operating theatres used for minimal invasive surgery also offers a range of IT-related jobs, explained David Dowe, head of Sony’s European healthcare division at the workshop.

Sony has adapted its broadcasting knowledge into the healthcare arena as high definition is very important in video-based surgery. So far most of Sony’s digital operating theatres have been installed in Scandinavia but the company is about to install its first in the UK in Edinburgh.

As well as being used for surgery, the pictures can be relayed to screens in a training room. This means that new techniques can be taught to large groups of students in a cinema, rather than them having to look over the shoulder of a surgeon.

To deliver this technology, Sony requires:
• Hardware and video programmers;
• Product marketing executives;
• Solutions architects (for the network etc);
• Bid managers;
• Project managers and engineers;
• Key account managers;
• Public relations professionals.

Jean Roberts of the UK Council for Health Informatics Professionals (UKCHIP) pointed out that Accenture and BT in Marksham also have large development groups involved in healthcare. BT is providing the 'spine' that connects the various NHS trusts' IT systems.

Academia conducts health-related research

Academia is also involved in healthcare developments, for example the University of Ulster is working on gait analysis, smart clothing and signal processing.

Kingston University conducts digital imaging research and Sarah Bigman described some of her work there at the workshop. She produces tools that clinicians may use in their research. One of her activities has been looking at how visual surveillance tools could be used in clinical consultations to see how patients react.

She is also working on the retinopathy of prematurity – the childhood blindness suffered by some premature infants.

As well as research, academic establishments offer health informatics courses. A variety of courses were presented during the day.

Lots of backgrounds can be suitable

However, you don't necessarily need extra training to go into health informatics. People came in from all sorts of background - medics, computer science, psychology, microbiology, maths, philosophy and even the military, according to Jean of UKCHIP.

Job adverts can be found through a variety of sources, such as the British Journal of Healthcare and the Health Services Journal. See below for a full list.

One way of expressing your interest in health informatics and seeing how you match requirements is by pre-registering with UKCHIP. The organization aims to raise professionalism of health informatics through registration.

At the moment registration is voluntary and Jean envisages that it could take two to three years before there is a critical mass to make it compulsory.

BCS and Equalitec are reviewing feedback from the two pilot workshops to decide on the format for future similar events. One participant had found a job a week after attending the BCS-Equalitec workshop on internet computing. Read her story here.

Useful websites:

Specifically for women:

Careers and health informatics: