• NHS Digital could cut its core headcount significantly over the next two years
  • Redundancies to make way for new staff with cyber security, data and machine learning skills
  • Union blames devastating funding cuts for hundreds of job losses and office closures

The jobs of hundreds of staff at NHS’s central digital agency are under threat as the organisation grapples with funding cuts and a lack of expertise in new technologies.

More than 620 NHS Digital staff were told on Monday that they were part of the first wave that may have to re-apply for their roles as part of an “organisational redesign”. The organisation has a total workforce of 3,079.

An NHS Digital spokeswoman confirmed there would be redundancies but said it had not yet been determined how many jobs would go.

A further two waves of reorganisation are also expected over the next two years as part of the restructure, known as “Org2”, that could further reduce the organisation’s headcount.

A document, circulated among staff on Monday and provided to HSJ, said that “belt-tightening” was needed.

It added: “If we do nothing, we will not be able to cover our cost by 2021, meaning we will have a workforce without all of the necessary skills, with the wrong shape, that is unaffordable. That is not viable.”

HSJ understands the organisation’s offices in Washington and Redditch, where 124 staff currently work, would close under the plans.

Meanwhile, project managers, information analysts and support staff, particularly in the middle pay bands, were all areas where the headcount needed to drop, the document said.

As well as reducing the workforce, some staff with “legacy or generalist” skills would need to retrain or be replaced with new people technically proficient in emerging technologies, such as cyber security, machine learning and data science, it said.

It added: “Key partners have raised concerns about our delivery capability, particularly around digital and data analytics expertise.”

Sarah Keigm, Yorkshire and Humberside area organiser for the Unison union, said: “Devastating funding cuts to NHS Digital’s budget over the next three years has forced a restructure that will see hundreds of job losses and office closures.”

“NHS Digital needs to start working with unions, to try to save some of these jobs and also to provide proper support for staff at this difficult time.”

NHS Digital is responsible for collecting and publishing NHS national data, including identifiable patient data, and runs many of the central IT systems for the NHS.

In the past three years, the agency has increasingly been given broader responsibility to deliver the national “digital transformation” strategy, including hosting the NHS app library and providing cyber security support across the system.

However, despite the new health and social care secretary saying technology was top priority last month, NHS Digital’s funding is expected to fall by nearly a fifth through to 2020-21.

In a statement, NHS Digital’s director of Org2, Sean Walsh, said that the restructure is “about skilling up our workforce and rethinking our structure”.

He said: “This will ensure that we have the deep skills and technical expertise to deliver the best service for our customers and also that our structure allows us to flex according to the needs of the health and care sector.

“We will partly do this through training and development for our staff, but we also know that we need to bring in new technical skills and to invest in new talent.”

The shake up at NHS Digital follows an unfavourable organisational review last year, that found it relied on out-of-date technology and did not foster digital innovation.