SCW graduate scheme members

Helping Health Education England to embrace inclusive recruitment

The Health Education England (HEE) Digital Readiness Programme is actively embedding the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda into all its work. Working with HEE, we were asked to develop and deliver an inclusive and transparent recruitment process for the NHS Digital Academy.


Working with HEE, we were asked to develop and deliver an inclusive and transparent recruitment process for the NHS Digital Academy.

The aims of the project were developed around several key drivers:

  • To better serve underrepresented groups in the leadership training
  • To provide support to those with protected characteristics as well as a range of professional groups at different stages of their careers
  • Increasing opportunity and accessibility to the NHS Digital academy itself

Our approach

The team employed an evidence-based process to review the existing recruitment process and implement interventions to tackle this challenge.

This approach used demographic data as well as high-level ESR data on gender and ethnicity to identify where interventions points could add the most value. In addition, we undertook secondary research through a literature review, speaking to other organisations to understand existing best practice and consulting equality, diversity and inclusion professionals.

Primary research was collected through the completion of a survey by those who had previously applied for the Digital Health Leadership programme (either successfully or unsuccessfully), and those working in Informatics/Digital in the NHS who had never applied.

The research and development phase was undertaken between December 2020 and February 2021, with delivery taking place from March 2021-September 2021.

We established 10 impactful interventions across the Digital Academy that covered the application, shortlisting, scoring, feedback and evaluation elements.

Interventions included but were not limited to: 

  • Increasing reach to underrepresented groups by targeting communications at key networks
  • Increasing clarity over academic requirements and the time commitment in application materials
  • Offering previous NHS Digital Academy alumni the opportunity to be on shortlisting panels to improve diversity (particularly in terms of ethnicity and educational background)
  • Anonymising applications so that the panel cannot see names or personal details of those applying
  • Providing clear positive and negative indicators for short listers to make the process more objective
  • Providing detailed shortlisting training, centred around inclusivity to those involved in the process
  • Ensuring all applications are scored twice, individually, to minimise bias/subjectivity
  • Offering feedback to all unsuccessful candidates that is sufficiently personalised and not generic
  • Collecting full protected characteristic data from all applicants
  • Continuously evaluating and improving the process


The result of these interventions has provided an end-to-end inclusive recruitment process that is agile and open to change through regular feedback into the process. Interventions will increase representation from diverse backgrounds through enhancing accessibility to the scheme and the quality of assessment.

This will contribute to meeting the goals of the NHS Long Term Plan by driving digital transformation and digitally-enabled care across the NHS. In addition, it addresses the Wachter Report recommendation that a successful digital strategy requires workforce development at all levels.

To find out more, contact Sarah Reed, Associate Director - Workforce - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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