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NHS tech staff and suppliers count as key workers, government confirms

Technologists working to support social care services or the NHS during the coronavirus outbreak classify as key workers, the government has confirmed.

The health service’s technology unit, NHSX, issued the clarification via Twitter on Friday evening (20 March), with CEO Matthew Gould later confirming the classification would also apply to tech suppliers.

The move means that from today (23 March), tech staff working either directly for, or as suppliers to, the NHS or social care services will be able to continue sending their children to school.

In guidance issued as the government prepared to close schools last week, it confirmed that teachers would continue to provide childcare for the children of key telecoms workers and some employees in the information technology and data infrastructure sector, as well as other critical workers, while they go out to work.

“If workers think they fall within the critical categories above, they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service,” the government said in a statement.

The crisis is the first major test for NHSX, which is working with NHS Digital to lead the health service’s tech response. NHS Digital has already rolled out an automated online process for securing sick-leave notes, while NHSX is attempting to deliver “app-based” coronavirus tracking solutions on Number 10’s request. WhatsApp has also been enlisted to create a coronavirus chatbot to deliver NHS guidance, according to reports. NHSX is also joining forces with the govtech-focused VC firm Public to launch a new fund to support innovations aimed at making social isolation more bearable.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, launched NHSX in April last year in a bid to modernise the health service’s tech infrastructure. It followed a long period of underinvestment in NHS IT, which was driven by austerity and contributed to the multi-million pound fallout of the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack.

But NHSX is currently operating with a skeletal staff. Its first permanent chief information officer Sonia Patel, currently CIO of two north London hospital trusts, isn’t due to join the organisation until summer, while its first chief technology officer, the former William Hill CTO David Hill, isn’t due to join until in May.