About the Digital Health Leadership Programme About the Digital Health Leadership Programme

The programme is a 12-month fully accredited Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Health Leadership delivered by Imperial College London along with The University of Edinburgh and HDR UK. Participants that successfully complete the PGDip have the option of further learning by completing a master’s degree (subject to participants securing additional funding, this master’s option isn’t funded centrally).

The programme will be delivered through a blend of online and in-person learning methods. All components of the programme will be highly engaging for participants supporting both individual learning and creating a vibrant community of digital leaders.



Establishment of the Digital Health Leadership Programme was a result of a 2017 Secretary of State commitment following recommendations made by the Wachter Review (Making IT Work: Harnessing the Power of Health Information Technology to Improve Care in England), specifically around the need to develop and invest in the capability and capacity of digital change leaders.  

This led to the inception of a Post Graduate Diploma (PGDip) in Digital Health Leadership with Cohorts 1-3 delivered by Imperial College London in partnership with The University of Edinburgh and Harvard Medical School. Following a subsequent open procurement process in early 2021, Health Education England re-commissioned the delivery of an additional four Cohorts (4-7) again through Imperial College London and The University of Edinburgh, along with partners HDR UK

Evolution of the NHS Digital Academy

In its initial years, the Digital Health Leadership Programme has been often more widely referred to as the NHS Digital Academy. It is therefore important that we now highlight the evolution of the concept of the NHS Digital Academy.  

In March 2021, Health Education England published a paper that set out the ‘Future Vision of the NHS Digital Academy'. This outlined its planned expansion, increasing the range of learning and development offerings that are available to meet the needs of our workforce. 

The Digital Health Leadership Programme is now a part of the NHS Digital Academy model. Whilst being recognised as the flagship learning programme, it is part of a wider set of learning and development products and offerings which includes learning programmes and tools. We therefore now refer to the Digital Health Leadership Programme as just that, and not as the NHS Digital Academy.

Programme overview

Outlined below is a summary of the content which will be delivered for the upcoming cohorts of the Digital Health Leadership Programme. An overview of each module has been provided, including information on the expected learning outcomes and methods of assessment.

Module 1 - Essentials of health systems

This module aims to equip participants with essential knowledge for understanding health systems. It provides a foundation of knowledge for the modules that follow. To achieve this, content is delivered in two parts.

Part one introduces the essential stakeholders and structures in health systems, and part two introduces key principles for evaluating the impact of process, policy, or product changes within a system.

Key topics in part one includes:

  • the role of information in health systems.
  • the evidence-based rationale for investing in health.
  • an introduction to recent, influential policy reform.

In part two, essential principles for understanding health systems’ complexity are introduced.

Process mapping is a core discipline introduced here and, by the end of the module, participants will appreciate its importance to quality improvement and system re-design. Content is delivered through short videos from leading academics, which are supplemented with core readings to guide participants through the module. In this module, participants will learn about health systems from a national and international perspective, as well as the research skills needed to maintain state-of-the art health informatics knowledge.

The module will begin with an overview of the key components of the UK health and social care system, including organisational structures, cultures, and processes. Participants will then learn about clinical governance frameworks in the UK and the various policy, financial, and legal levers shaping healthcare delivery.

Participants will learn about the current best practice and literature in quality improvement and patient safety, including the processes and reporting procedures that are involved. Participants will learn how to systematically search for and critically appraise relevant publications in the health informatics, medical, and scientific literature, relating ideas to current thinking, knowledge, and research.

Module 1 learning outcomes

By the end of module one, participants will be able to:

1.1 Critically appraise national and local health systems and policies, relevant to informatics in health service delivery.

1.2 Assess and illustrate health system performance with reference to health outcomes, responsiveness, equity, financial protection, and efficiency.

1.3 Critically evaluate the resources and models that can be used to compare health systems.

1.4 Map flows of data/ information/ knowledge for purposes to identify opportunities for healthcare improvements and service redesign.

1.5 Develop analytical and reflective skills, applying the concepts of systems-based approaches to your own context, considering the implications for your role and learning needs for the programme.

Module 2 - Strategy and transformational change

This module aims to equip participants with the tools and techniques to implement transformational change in health and social care. As we work in a complex health and social care system; digital leaders require toolkits to assist them in implementing transformational change.

The ability to manage risks and opportunities whilst taking your organisation/ locality and senior leaders on this journey is essential for the success of any digital transformation. This module focuses on human interactions including strategy setting, risk management, leveraging opportunities, and working with partners. The reference points in this module will form that basis for your approach to continually scan the environment for opportunities to improve health and social care. 

The module will also cover strategy development and financial planning, integrating learning around project and programme management with business models, enterprise and innovation, and procurement approaches.

Module 2 learning outcomes

By the end of module two, participants will be able to:

2.1 Develop strategic plans that address health informatics requirements with clearly defined benefits for key stakeholders.

2.2 Critically reflect on the use of project management techniques and tools for the management of organisational and informatics projects.

2.3 Compare and contrast the ways in which the expectations for delivery of clinical and non-clinical informatics projects can be managed.

2.4 Critically evaluate risk management issues pertinent to health informatics and the wider organisation, and how these issues affect the lifecycle of a project.

Module 3 - Health information systems and technologies

In this module, we will introduce participants to new frameworks for understanding digitally enabled change. The Information Infrastructures perspective helps to understand distinctive features of the contemporary health digitisation landscape.

It highlights how simple, stand-alone “discrete” IT applications become knitted together into increasingly complex “systems of systems”. These Health Information Infrastructures emerge and evolve over extended periods of time, never reaching a final state. Major upgrades are extremely expensive, slow, and difficult to implement.

Benefits evolve only slowly as organisational stakeholders learn to exploit the new functionality. These features call into question many of the recipes you might find in popular change management handbooks or courses. For example, change management guidelines all agree on the importance of engaging the user – but how does this work with a project that takes many years to unfold in which staff who took part in engagement activities at the outset may have moved on by the time the change goes live?

Participants will learn about information governance and security, including an in-depth exploration into contemporary cyber security challenges and approaches. Participants will learn about the entire information systems life cycle, including data standards, and the complexities associated with interoperability in the health system.

Module 3 learning outcomes

By the end of module three, participants will be able to:

3.1 Critically debate the development of the Healthcare Information Infrastructures from a variety of perspectives.

3.2 Develop evaluation and impact measures for informatics projects, including risk attack scenarios.

3.3 Design strategies for promoting adoption and effective use of clinical information.

3.4 Apply both interoperability and nomenclature standards in the development and implementation of Healthcare Information Infrastructures.

Module 4 - User-centred design and citizen-driven informatics

Understanding the needs, expectations, and experiences of healthcare users is vital if we are to effectively commission, design, and deliver digital services. In this module we examine the philosophical and practical reasons for engaging and involving people in the design process and analyse the design methodologies used to ensure that products or services are usable, acceptable, effective, and customer centric.

As part of this we will review the current landscape of patient- and citizen-facing innovations and explore the emerging direction of technology and the opportunities and threats this is likely to bring. We will review evidence and experiential learning from the use of innovations such as personal health records, apps, wearables, robots, and online decision support.

In addition, we will examine the importance of inclusive design for avoiding the ‘digital health divide’, how to engage citizens in decisions about uses of their data, and how to achieve innovations that are ethical, engaging, and even delightful.

This module provides participants with an insight into the latest developments in user-centred design and citizen-driven informatics. Participants will be taken through a number of in-depth case studies, each supported by the underlying theory and literature, and linked to contemporary policy, ethical and governance principles. Participants will have the opportunity to practice some of the approaches and methods they learn about during the residential component of the programme, in a number of user-centred design workshops and activities.

Module 4 learning outcomes

By the end of module four, participants will be able to:

4.1 Critically appraise a wide range of digital health innovations for patients and citizens, drawing on current evidence and user cases.

4.2 Communicate the importance of user-centredness for enhancing the quality and safety of healthcare and for addressing changing consumer needs and expectations.

4.3 Explain the role and value of user-centred design in producing digital health tools and services that are fit for purpose and value for money.

4.4 Develop comprehensive strategies and plans for identifying users’ needs, motivations, and behaviours, which acknowledge multiple stakeholders.

4.5 Apply widely practiced methodologies, scientific sources, and relevant literature to understand usability issues and design usable systems.

4.6 Critically debate how theories of health behaviour change and behavioural economics are influencing the design and effectiveness of eHealth systems.

Module 5 - Decision support, knowledge management and actionable analytics

This module aims to provide participants with a broad overview of learning health systems and the workflow for data analysis, including elements of time-series analysis, signal processing, and machine learning. Participants will explore aspects of data collection, data quality management, and study design.

We focus on understanding principles towards exploring and analysing data, pattern recognition, and designing practical clinical decision support tools. We use case studies to follow through the entire process and demonstrate how practical tools can be developed. Furthermore, we touch on how decision processes are studied, biases in decision making, and evaluating decision support systems. The module will focus on cutting-edge methods and technologies that are likely to allow participants to think creatively about how informatics can be used. The module will cover actionable data analytics for quality improvement, and evidence-based decision making for both clinical and non-clinical staff.

By the end of the module, participants will have a clearer overview of learning health systems, an understanding of the data mining and machine learning framework to develop decision support tools and will be able to create a systematic approach to verification, validation, and evaluation processes of decision support systems.

This module will enable participants to develop expertise in identifying data sources (including electronic patient records; non-health data collected for health purposes). Participants will review the different types of data available and learn when and how to use analytical techniques.

Module 5 learning outcomes

By the end of module five, participants will be able to:

5.1 Identify the main features of a “Learning Health System”.

5.2 Critically review scientific protocols and publications for analytical methods and decision support, and consider how the information could be used in the context of quality improvement.

5.3 Systematically assess the potential impact and challenges of health informatics developments on patients, populations, and services.

5.4 Critically appraise how a variety of technologies and methods, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and Natural Language Processing techniques can be deployed in a healthcare organisation.

5.5 Justify clinical knowledge management proposals, and critically review and interpret literature to establish the clinical suitability of knowledge mechanisms.
5.6 Formulate clinical decision support (CDS) strategies to support quality and patient safety, as well as critically evaluating a CDS implementation at own organisation or in other scenarios.

Module 6a - Principles of leadership

In this theoretical module, participants will gain an understanding of:

  • key concepts in leadership and how these affect their practice.
  • how to engage and build relationships with stakeholders.
  • how to ensure that digital innovation is central to strategic developments across health and social care.
  • how to lead transformational change in the workplace with the added dimensions of complexity, diversity, and disruption ushered in by digital technology.

Informatics is an enabler of great change in the delivery of healthcare. The role of the digital health leader is to understand the main concepts of management, how to engage and build relationships with various stakeholders and how to ensure that teams have the appropriate skill mix and management. In particular, the role will serve as a 'change agent' and will be equipped with the skills to manage and communicate this.

By the end of this module, participants will be able to critically appraise the evidence of leadership frameworks and to operate as a leader involved in transforming health and social care services.

Module 6a learning outcomes

By the end of module 6a, participants will be able to:

6a.1 Critically appraise opportunities for self-development, adapting to different contexts and practicing selected interpersonal and team-working skills.

6a.2 Critically evaluate what constitutes effective leadership in an organisational context.

6a.3 Evaluate and synthesise academic literature and models of leadership to assess the impact of different leadership styles on working practices.

6a. 4 Consider the implications of your leadership style and formulate personal action plans to establish how you will approach future digital transformation challenges in healthcare.

Module 6b - Leadership in practice

In this advanced leadership class, participants will build on the foundations they have acquired in the previous leadership class and harness the tools and means to lead transformational change in the workplace with the added dimensions of complexity, diversity, and disruption ushered in by digital technology.

This module is delivered in a series of mandatory synchronous online and in-person sessions and is complemented by resources in the online learning community. In addition, residentials bring together concepts and ideas from the other modules, helping participants to apply these principles to transform individual practice.

By the end of this module, participants will be able to apply the learning of leadership frameworks from module 6a and to operate as a leader involved in transforming health and social care services.

Module 6b learning outcomes

By the end of module 6b, participants will be able to:

6b.1 Adapt and use audience-appropriate communication and language to present information and convey concepts to relevant programme stakeholders through the application of different methods and styles of communication.

6b.2 Rigorously appraise a negotiation situation and develop a plan to improve your ability to negotiate effectively.

6b.3 Work effectively and collaboratively in a team and learn how to form relationships with key stakeholders.

6b.4 Develop reflective learning skills to consider avenues for self-development, such as the need to adapt skills for different contexts and to practice selected interpersonal skills.

6b.5 Develop personal action plans and carry out Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to maintain and improve competence in their own area of practice to address future leadership challenges.

Time commitments

Participants are recommended to commit to a study time of between 10-15 hours per week on average.

Please note that while participants will be supported by faculty members throughout the programme, individual learning needs will differ depending on your previous exposure to academic programmes. As a result, some participants will need to commit more time to the programme and undertake additional self-directed study to successfully complete the core learning and assessments within the programme.

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