HTN Now: Integrated Care Northamptonshire’s Matthew Hutton on the benefits of a system-wide digital academy

For one of our most recent HTN Now webinars we spoke with Matthew Hutton, digital lead for Northamptonshire ICS (Integrated Care Northamptonshire), on the topic of developing data and digital skills in the workforce.


Matthew explained: “I’m here today to make the case for setting up your own system-wide Digital Academy. A report from the World Economic Forum said that we need a global re-skilling revolution of 1 billion people by 2030. It’s quite shocking, the amount of people that we need to change skills in their jobs. At the moment, there is a lot of outsourcing – in fact one in three data professionals across all industries are outsourced. That means that we aren’t embedding people with those skills into our organisations enough. In the public sector, there’s not enough specific internal training, and we don’t tend to identify the gaps in that training well either, compared to private sector or even our local authority colleagues.”

He added that the NHS often has “huge transformation projects” happening, which can mean that organisations find it a struggle to work together to transform. “We get the funding for tech, sometimes millions of pounds, but can struggle to upskill people sufficiently to get the best value and benefits from the change.”

Tackling this was a key part of Integrated Care Northamptonshire’s digital strategy, Matthew noted. “We want to expand our core capabilities and set up formal accreditation, creating digital and data expertise in our organisations. We had a whole programme dedicated to using data to create better health and care pathways and improve our decision making as professionals, and we need to empower the workforce to back it up.”

Utilising data and analytics

With data from 68 GP surgeries and two acute hospitals, as well as a community and mental health trust and emerging links with East Midlands Ambulance Trust, two councils and a children’s trust, Matthew talked about the ways that the ICS is beginning to perform analytics.

“We’ve got so much data at our fingertips now, and we’ve created a tool called the Northamptonshire Analytics Reporting Platform,” he shared. “It’s based on a population health tool by Graphnet, and we’ve got a number of dashboards that let display the data in different ways. For example, you can drill down to different local areas, you can link diseases to medication, or clinical professionals can find a specific cohort with patient identifiable data.”

There are lots of uses that are immediately apparent, Matthew said, but the platform “requires more skills in the workforce and a different attitude to data.”

He explained how his team developed their understanding of where the workforce was to begin with, holding around 12 hours of workshops across the patch with different colleagues. “Hunger for extra data from other organisations is the thing that drives many of them – we had comments from people about a lack of capacity, recruitment and retention, and outsourcing data professionals. Our people wanted to know how they could reduce duplication across providers and how they could encourage people to self-serve. They also wanted to understand how data is used by the other providers, and identify better outcomes for our citizens. If we take an overall approach to our data and look at it from a system-wide perspective, how are we measuring our benefits? That was an important part of why we set up this Academy.”

Matthew moved on to talk about the practical steps his team took, including working with a company called Multiverse, who offer a connected and simple apprenticeship scheme for data professionals.

“We wanted to do a pilot with them, but firstly we got some help from them in doing a skills assessment across our data professionals and our organisations,” he explained. “We had about 200 people respond to our survey, and they told us that they felt they were spending about five-and-a-half hours per week inefficiently with data. We know that there’s a big cost to that, particularly at a relatively high level with some of our staff working from band six to band eight. Any efficiency, you can say, actually creates a decent bottom line for cost savings.”

Upskilling the workforce

“To develop people’s data skills, we set up three tiers of potential learning for apprenticeship schemes, which are about established professionals improving their skills using the apprenticeship levy funds that we contribute across the system. There’s ‘data champion’, which is 15 months of learning analytics interaction. There’s also ‘data fellowship’ and then ‘advanced data fellowship’, which is essentially a degree – it’s NVQ level 6 and it lasts for three years. People have joined halfway through that who have already done similar learning through apprenticeships, and now they can jump on and top it up to become a degree level qualification.”

Matthew explained that the most important part of this initiative for him is the data literacy. “It’s all well and good to have experts in business intelligence and health intelligence, but if you don’t have intelligent consumers and customers, then you’re not really closing the circle on improvement. We know that the change comes from the service level up, so we’ve encouraged clinical and administrative professionals outside of the normal digital teams to come into the data literacy course, where it will create an immense amount of savings of their time and create better customers for our BI teams.”

The academy launched at the end of September. “We went through the summer delivering information sessions for managers and learners, and we spent a lot of time in different board meetings making sure that we had the right kind of support for this. It is something new – there isn’t another apprenticeship scheme that’s delivered across the system level in our county.”

The first cohort has been chosen, with 18 people participating from across the ICS. “Each of these people do a minimum three hours of education each week, and an additional three hours of practicing the skills learnt. Using what they’ve learned to apply to their day job improves their job, improves their learning and their skills, and also the possibilities of what they can do in their career.  It makes a massive difference.”

Looking to the future

Matthew finished by covering some of the benefits that he and his team have already observed, as well as those he hopes to see in the coming years.

“Upskilling and connecting our workforce is really good for retaining talent – if you’ve got some talented people that you want on an apprenticeship, it may encourage them to stay in the ICS for longer and give them professional development and a better sense of their belonging in the organisation,” he said.

It’s also good for attracting new talent, Matthew pointed out. With a university in Northamptonshire and Birmingham and London an hour away, he acknowledged that there are competing data jobs available. “We know that we’ve got to attract new talent through creating the best data customers, empowering people to make their own decisions about data, and by using the data that’s out there. We’ve got people embedded in primary care and other parts of the system who can really fly with this, so I’m expecting some big things to emerge from that and some new ideas around how we manage our data from our own customers. Sharing data skills across organisational boundaries is something that we’ve just talked about for years, but not got to grips with, and this is a chance for people at the right level to be talking to each other across that cohort; there’s a lot of online social events and chats and message boards and things linked to the Academy.”

Matthew added that the ICS wants to be able to track benefits across the system. “It’s quite hard to track what benefit an individual learner is having with an individually procured apprenticeship scheme. Through this scheme, we can track benefits right across that cohort – we know that, at the very least, some of those benefits are non-cashable time saving benefits already. We’ve already spread the word to other counties around our region and I am pleased to say that Leicestershire are also working on their first cohort to start in early 2024, so we’ll see what benefits come out of that as well. You can see within the recurring benefits of this, there is money to be saved for the money that we invest from the levy. We hope that that can grow our digital skills in new and different ways in the future.

Many thanks to Matthew for taking the time to join us.