The NHS is in desperate need of IT directors with a commercial background due to the ongoing reform being carried out by the coalition government, according to recruiters in the sector.

Don Tomlinson, managing director of max20, a recruiter that specialises in the health sector, spoke to Computerworld UK and explained that Trusts are increasingly looking for CIOs and senior IT managers that don’t necessarily have a background in the NHS.

“It really is changing. Ten ago, whenever we got a requirement, the candidate would have to have NHS experience. This just isn’t the case anymore,” said Tomlinson.

“The NHS is becoming more commercialised. Some organisations that are now funded by the NHS, you wouldn’t know you were dealing with the public sector anymore. We recently placed a business development manager, who was chosen for her ability to go and open up doors in the private sector.”

He added: “The major benefit of hiring people outside the NHS is that they come in with fresh ideas. I know this one lady in particular was able to come in and say how she would promote an Informatics service to non-NHS organisations. It’s very much an expertise transfer.”

Tomlinson said that traditional roles within the NHS, such as information specialists that are working with patient data, still require experience within the sector. However, project manager and business development manager roles are very much open to private sector candidates.

He also said that because GPs are now being given additional responsibiltiy fopr commissioning care, they are increasingly calling for external expertise to come in.

Potential candidates also need to be made aware of the opportunities that are available to them, according to Tomlinson.

“When you first talk to candidates, they aren’t necessarily aware of the opportunities. It would be really useful if we could get the message out that the NHS is now waking up to the fact that they need these guys,” he said.

“The contracts also tend to be very substantial and rates aren’t an issue. The NHS needs to make sure its spending its money wisely, but it isn’t penny pinching.”

Phil Corrin, deputy director of Knowsley Health Informatics Service, agreed with Tomlinson.

“The Health service has gone through quite a large reform over the last couple of years, in terms of the commercialisation of it. There has been a trend towards organisations having to promote themselves, market themselves. Social media and the ‘amazon ratings approach’ are also changing the way people view service providers and service providers need to change,” he said.

“The skills you need in order to survive in this new market place are quite different to the old fashioned NHS IT department. Good CIOs are good CIOs. They should be able to come in and run a department, as long as they engage with the business and realise that dealing with patients gives it a different spin.”

In other news, Computerworld UK recently revealed that the NHS is in discussions with the White House about how best to open up its public data for re-use.

The US’ deputy chief technology officer for government innovation, Chris Vein, said that the UK government is effectively aiming to ‘blow up’ the NHS as it is currently structured and rebuild it, and plans are set to include opening up datasets.