Jeremy Hunt has been told he must urgently address an IT skills deficit in the NHS leadership community if his ambition for a paperless NHS by 2018 is to have credibility and momentum.

The call has been made in an open letter to the health secretary in this week’s HSJ on behalf of 430 health and IT figures who contributed to research by HSJ.

The letter examines the barriers to a paperless NHS, carried out in association with BoardPad, which makes electronic document sharing and meeting software. The survey the letter is based on is one of the most comprehensive polls of health and IT professionals addressing the NHS technology landscape since Mr Hunt was appointed health secretary.

The Department of Health’s decision to invest around £500m in NHS projects via the technology fund and the nursing technology fund was welcomed by the sector.

However, survey findings suggest some of this funding - and future time and energy - would be better spent addressing a lack of skills and problems with culture, rather than on hardware and equipment. Ninety-one per cent of respondents said the NHS leadership community’s lack of IT knowledge could thwart Mr Hunt’s 2018 target date for the paperless NHS goal to be achieved.

Respondents welcomed NHS England’s decision to sponsor senior informatics staff to join the NHS Leadership Academy senior executive development programme, but more action will be needed, the work suggests.