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- Health: future trends
Health: future trends
The health sector is entering the early stages of what is planned to be a profound series of reforms, which will have a significant effect on the future shape of the industry. However, with an ageing population there is expected to be a demand for staff in the future. Projections made before 2010 suggested that, between 2008 and 2017, around 400,000 new staff would be needed for the sector [Working Futures 2007-2017], and nearly 1.5m more would be required to replace leavers. The bulk of staff were expected to be required in roles with higher skills. Developments since the recession have rendered this projection likely to be inaccurate in the short term, but long-term trends of increased employment in the sector, particularly at higher skills levels, are likely to remain valid.
In the very short term it is highly likely that the labour market for health professionals will be constrained, and competition between graduates will be very high. This newly qualified workforce may have to undertake their first roles as qualified practitioners in specialties that have historically been less attractive. There also exists the potential for short-term oversupply of graduates from universities, with new doctors, nurses, therapists etc. struggling to find jobs within the sector following graduation [Skills for Health LMI National Reports]. Independent organisations may, instead, offer more opportunities than the public sector.
There is expected to be an acceleration of the already increasing role of private health providers. Independent treatment centres, external contracts for diagnostic services (an important potential employer for doctoral graduates), and private suppliers of materials and clinical services are all important parts of the sector and their role in the health sector is expected to increase. An increased concentration of complex care and emergency services, is predicted, some being linked with world class academic medical centres [Working Futures 2007-2017].
Information technology has had a profound impact on the health sector and there are expected to be significant developments in the future. Doctoral graduates are likely to find opportunities in the research, development and operation of new diagnostic techniques, and the sector is exploring opportunities in remote diagnostics and surgery, using robotics and other methods, which are likely to drive research and innovation.
The use and examination of large and complex datasets have brought disciplines such as bioinformatics to the fore, but the wealth of data that the sector holds and collects may help to drive closer collaboration in research and development, with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies seeking to understand patterns of illnesses and treatments. In particular, developments in understanding the human genome are anticipated to have a profound effect on health thinking, with gene therapy techniques under investigation as a potential future direction for health care.
The profound changes taking place represent a significant management challenge. Skills For Health have identified a number of areas which will require particular management skills, including managing the sector's large volunteer workforce, management of health small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and leadership in both the NHS and independent health sectors [Skills for Health LMI National Reports].
The health sector is large and diverse with specific training schemes for many professions. Most organisations provide staff training and this is accessible for employees at all levels of qualification. Skills gaps do exist, and the most relevant for doctoral graduates are in certain skilled technical occupations, with shortages believed to exist in pharmacy, dentistry and some branches of physiology. Increased focus on data handling and in new technology has opened up opportunities for skilled handlers of data. There are also moves to develop roles at advanced practitioner level, jobs which will allow new and existing staff to undertake tasks that have traditionally been reserved for doctors, and these roles are expected to require postgraduate training.
On a broader level, there are skills needs within the sector for: problem-solving skills; oral communication skills; customer handling skills; team working skills; and management and leadership skills.
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